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Rep. Roe: Restoring Local Control to K-12 Education

Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN): Restoring Local Control to K-12 Education

Since I was sworn in to Congress in 2009, I've proudly served on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. A former mayor, I am keenly aware of the importance of our educators and school administrators. They shape the future of our communities, and their work greatly affects the economy, which is why I've made it a point to regularly visit schools around Tennessee's first congressional district.

Everywhere I go in the district, I hear from teachers, parents, administrators and students who all tell me that we need to return control of our education system to the local level. Many are frustrated by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and worry about the Department of Education's attempts to control education policy by conditional waivers, leaving states and school districts with uncertainty and little control over their schools. I think we can all agree that NCLB was well-intentioned, but it has failed our students and made things more difficult for our educators.

I was honored to be asked to serve as a conferee for the House and Senate conference committee tasked with ironing out the differences in separate bills passed by the House and Senate this summer to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). I was glad to see strong bipartisan support behind the framework agreed to by leaders of the House and Senate Education Committees, and we have released the legislative text of the conference report.

One of my highest priorities in these discussions was bringing peace of mind to the parents and teachers I've heard from about the adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. While these standards were developed in a process that began as a state-led initiative, in recent years concern has increased as the Department of Education has required states to adopt these standards as a condition for receiving federal grants or relief from the punitive mandates of No Child Left Behind.

The House bill took away the department's ability to require Common Core as a condition of federal grants, which ensures the decision on whether or not to adopt Common Core will truly be left up to the states — as it should be — and I am proud that important language was included in the final bill, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. The bill also protects local control by prohibiting the secretary of education from adding any new requirements on states and schools not required in law.

By preserving local control and protecting state decision-making power on Common Core, we're making things easier for school districts to do what works best for them. As I've said before, just as a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work for healthcare reform, it does not work for education. Each state, school district and student are different, and local administrators, teachers and parents — not the federal government — should make decisions based on what's best for their students.

While this bill is imperfect, I truly believe the conference committee has reached a strong agreement that reflects conservative priorities in education reform, priorities such as reducing the federal role and restoring local control. Make no mistake: A vote against this bill is a vote for the status quo that leaves the secretary of education with the power to coerce states into adopting Common Core.

On my way home after work just the other evening, I met a boy at the grocery store who was looking for some items on the shelves. He asked me for help in locating crushed pineapples because he told me couldn't read the words. I helped him and we found the crushed pineapples, but it hit me — this is why we want to invest in education. We have to have a system that ensures that boy and thousands of other children just like him are given the opportunity to succeed in life, and that starts with a good education.

A good education that gives his teachers and school administrators the resources and flexibility they need to educate students based on their own unique needs. Congress has a great opportunity to start helping that child and others like him by agreeing to the bipartisan, bicameral bill to replace No Child Left Behind, and I look forward to supporting the bill on the House floor.

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