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ICYMI: Target education dollars where they work best


By Rep. John Kline (R-MN)

A recent national survey revealed an overwhelming majority of American voters believe they aren't getting their money's worth from public schools, and rightly so. Federal education spending has more than quadrupled since 1980, yet student achievement levels remain flat. For every high school senior, taxpayers have invested in excess of $100,000, yet only one-third of those 12th-graders can read at grade level.

The state of education in our nation is deeply troubling. Our system is long on requirements, restrictions and bureaucracy but short on results. The U.S. Department of Education reports 82 percent of schools could be labeled as "failing" this year. This is unacceptable. It's time to pursue a new direction, and that starts with re-examining how federal dollars are spent in the education system.

In this time of economic uncertainty and trillion-dollar deficits, far too many taxpayer dollars are being wasted on inefficient, outdated or duplicative education programs. The Department of Education operates 79 separate programs tied to K-12 classrooms. Many of these programs have proven ineffective. In an effort to ensure taxpayer dollars are well spent, the House Education and the Workforce Committee will soon advance legislation that cuts the number in half by repealing wasteful education programs.

Cutting unnecessary programs will help reduce the federal regulatory burden on schools, streamline education spending, and take a step toward putting our nation's fiscal house back in order. This is a good first step, but it isn't enough. We must also make an effort to provide greater flexibility to states and local school districts in determining how federal education funds are spent.

At a recent committee hearing, Oklahoma State School Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi articulated a prevailing sentiment among educators when she requested more freedom in how federal dollars are used in her state's schools. Barresi said, "We can turn our crisis in Oklahoma into an opportunity, but only if we are prepared to embrace the kinds of bold reforms that fundamentally transform our education system for the better -- and only if the federal government is prepared to work with states like ours to allow the flexibility we need in order to innovate."

Too often, federal education dollars come bundled with myriad requirements, rules and restrictions that can tie the hands of educators and undermine schools' ability to meet the unique needs of students. That's why we are developing a proposal that will give states and local school districts the freedom to target taxpayer resources where they're needed most. If a school determines greater resources are better spent on reading or new technologies, it should be free to adjust its budget to reflect the reality of its classrooms.

These initiatives will be the first in a series of targeted education reform bills designed to reduce barriers, encourage innovation, and promote excellence in the nation's classrooms. We've been listening to people talk about education reform for far too long. Plenty of folks have spoken up, but it is time to stand up. Together, we need to make it clear that we will no longer accept the status quo. We are unwilling to accept schools that do not succeed. And we are demanding more for our children now so they will be better prepared to succeed tomorrow.

Kline, R-Minn., is chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce.