A Nation In Distress

A Nation In Distress

Saturday, March 26, 2011

School Leaders Testify On The Burden Of Federal Intervention

From The Heritage Foundation:

School Leaders Testify on the Burden of Federal Intervention

Rachel Sheffield

At a House hearing on the burden of federal intervention into American schools last Tuesday, Representative Mike Kelly (R–PA) referred to federal officials as “the people that are … making the rules but have never played the game.” Washington has continued to send burdensome mandates and regulations to local schools, Kelly noted, yet politicians are not the ones who have to deal with the consequences.

Kelly and other members of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education heard testimony from three school administrators who do have to face the consequences of federal overregulation—and from Heritage Director of Domestic Policy Jennifer Marshall.

As Marshall testified, since the federal government got into the business of regulating schools in the 1960s, the number of federal education programs has increased massively, bringing with them increasingly complex compliance burdens and red tape for schools to handle. Instead of using resources to focus on students, schools are forced to throw time, money, and manpower toward Washington’s demands. She noted:

"The proliferation of federal programs and the ever-increasing prescription of federally driven systemic reform distract school-level personnel and local and state leaders from serving their primary customers: students, parents, and taxpayers."

Likewise, Robert Grimesey, superintendent of Orange County (Virginia) Public Schools, noted that the “culture of compliance” created by federal regulation “makes federal compliance an end in itself.” As a result, “it becomes very difficult to maintain … focus on the achievement and welfare of our children.”

It’s no surprise, then, that while federal education spending has tripled over the last four decades, student achievement and graduation rates have flatlined.

James Willcox, chief executive officer of Aspire Public Schools, gave an example of what he referred to as “overly burdensome” regulation. He noted that for schools “to qualify for or renew Title I funding requires copious amounts of paperwork,” requiring each employee to “fill out a personnel activity sheet each month.” Additionally, they must “outline their salary for that month and describe how much of that is from Title I.” On top of that, “each staff member and his/her principal have to sign these forms on a monthly basis.” They are also asked to submit two 30-page reports annually and carry out a “rigorous … auditing process.”

Beyond this, No Child Left Behind has “cost states an additional 7 million hours in paperwork at a cost of $141 million,” Marshall noted.

As Kelly succinctly concluded:

"We have overregulated and overburdened you so much with unneeded information and continue to do it. … My personal opinion is you need to have less government telling you what the rules should be: they don’t know, they’ve never done it."

Instead of saddling states and districts with more federal regulations and red tape, the federal government needs to get out of the way of what works in schools. Otherwise we’ll be stuck with an education system that caters to Washington bureaucrats more than to parents and taxpayers.

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