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ICYMI: Outdated mandates fail our students

Outdated mandates fail our students

By Rep. John Kline (R-MN)

Since the beginning of this Congress, the House Education and the Workforce Committee has held several hearings and roundtables to examine the state of education in America. We’ve talked with superintendents, teachers, school officials and parents to get their perspectives on the challenges facing students and communities.

Through all this, we came back to one sad fact: Children in America are being shortchanged. Teachers and administrators are bogged down with burdensome, outdated mandates. Budgetary shortfalls and strict regulations have made it difficult for schools to prioritize funding streams for the most effective initiatives. Parents are rightly frustrated with the state of their children’s underperforming public schools.

There is a better way. The committee has begun advancing a series of reforms to fix the nation’s education system.

Improving our schools starts with recognizing, as is often the case, that Washington is part of the problem. That’s why we’ve started with legislation to streamline and simplify the federal role in education. The Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act would eliminate more than 40 wasteful, duplicative or just plain unnecessary programs tied to K-12 classrooms.

This legislation takes an important first step, but more must be done to ensure all students have access to a quality education. Over the coming months, we will move forward with proposals to address other areas for improvement. Our top priorities include:

Encouraging Funding Flexibility

Every federal K-12 education program is bundled with a separate set of eligibility requirements, reporting regulations and strict rules dictating exactly how program funds may be spent. These overwhelming regulations can severely limit the ability of states and school districts to apply federal dollars to initiatives that best serve students’ needs.

To address this issue, the committee is working on legislation to provide maximum flexibility in the use of federal education funds. Our proposal would allow states and school districts to transfer formula funds received under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and through the Education Jobs Fund program between select initiatives to fulfill local education priorities. If a school determines resources are better spent on reading or new technologies, it should be free to adjust its budget to reflect the reality of its classrooms.

Promoting Parental Choice Through High-Quality Charter Schools

Charter schools can be a beacon of hope for parents of children trapped in underperforming schools. The innovative institutions embody two key principles American families want to see in the nation’s education system: choice and flexibility.

Charter schools emphasize parental involvement, encourage innovative instruction and demand high academic standards. And they’re held accountable for producing results. There’s bipartisan agreement that high-performing charter schools are a valuable part of the public school system. 

That’s why we are developing a proposal to modernize and streamline the charter school program. Our efforts center on providing states more authority and incentives to support the development and expansion of successful charter schools. Facilitating the establishment of high-quality charter schools would further encourage choice, innovation and excellence in education. 

Supporting Quality Teachers 

Enthusiastic young teachers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Jersey and other states have been named “Teacher of the Year” for their fresh and innovative methods that keep students engaged in the classroom — only to be laid off because of budget constraints and “last hired, first fired” rules. Valuing credentials and tenure over student outcomes is completely unacceptable. 

Studies have consistently shown teacher quality is among the most influential factors in students’ academic achievement. In an effort to get more talented teachers in the nation’s classrooms, the committee plans to encourage creative approaches, such as performance pay, to help states recruit, hire and retain highly effective teachers. Every student deserves to be inspired and challenged by an outstanding educator. 

Redefining Accountability 

There’s no doubt schools should be held accountable — but for what? And to whom? Answering these questions is at the crux of our reform efforts. 

For more than a decade, “accountability” has meant reporting to, and taking direction from, the U.S. secretary of education. But it has become clear that putting Washington in the role of the nation’s superintendent leads to overly prescriptive mandates and top-down regulations, ultimately stifling local innovation. 

Over the past few years, as more state and local officials have chosen to carry the mantle of reform, the resulting progress has been nothing short of extraordinary. 

Lawmakers and bureaucrats in the nation’s capital will never have the same integral understanding of the diverse needs of students in cities like New Orleans, Indianapolis or Tampa Bay as the teachers, administrators and parents who spend time with them every day. 

As we continue working to redefine accountability and to reform the nation’s education system, one thing is certain: The federal government must stop micromanaging classrooms. Instead, states and local school districts must be provided the flexibility, resources and information necessary to innovate. Only then can we best prepare all children for success in school and in life. 

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) is chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.