Congress is now in the midst of discussing the reauthorization of the landmark education law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). While some in Washington are interested in slightly altering the federal mandates in the law, fiddling around the edges isn’t going to fix the problems our teachers, parents, and students have been experiencing these past five years. That approach will simply paper over some the current grievances without getting to the root of the problem. My bill, the LEARN Act (Local Education Authority Returns Now), would get to the real matter at hand and allow local and state governments to create and enforce public education themselves.
When President Bush first introduced NCLB, he was right when he said that the goal should be improving accountability in education. Parents demand it. Teachers demand it. And, it is the best tool that we can give them as they strive to make education work for their children.
But, NCLB entirely missed the mark. It centralized accountability in Washington with the bureaucrats and appointees at the U.S. Department of Education, completely bypassing the legislators in 50 state capitals, countless township school boards and local elected officials, and — most importantly — administrators, educators, and parents all across the nation.
Instead of encouraging teachers to be creative in engaging their students in the classroom, NCLB’s testing requirements have forced teachers to “teach to the test.” Many states have actually lowered their standards in order to maintain their federal funding. NCLB hasn’t encouraged creativity or competition. Instead, it set standards to a lowest common denominator and established a race to the bottom.
Here’s just one example: A school in my district that is consistently cited in publications as one of the top performing schools in the State of New Jersey was actually placed on the Department of Education’s highly publicized “early warning list.” But, this is not an underperforming school. In fact, every year, nearly 100% of the students graduate and go on to attend college and the school’s average combined SAT score hovers at 1100. This is a school bursting at the seams with motivated teachers, students, and parents. But, it was put on the warning list because one student did not meet NCLB’s requirement for what they deemed was “adequate performance.” This is not an isolated example.
It’s important to note that all 50 states have taken some form of action, whether it is legislative or legal, against No Child Left Behind. You can view this link to see what specific action your state has taken. It’s clear that states are speaking in unison that they don’t believe NCLB is meeting the needs of their children. But despite the state action taken, NCLB does not allow states to opt out of these federal education mandates unless they are willing to give up the federal education funding that goes with it. I want to give states the ability to opt out without loss of their taxpayers’ federal funding.
My bill, the LEARN Act, gives states the ability to opt out of NCLB and provides residents of those states a tax credit equal to the amount that they would have otherwise received in federal funding. This gives control back to the states, allowing them to pursue local and state educational initiatives based on what they believe will best help their students. States and local school districts then set their own standards, enforce their own penalties for failure, and establish their own goals for teachers and students. Accountability would be transferred from D.C. bureaucrats to the people who know the schools and the students personally.
Under my proposal, states that feel that the regulations of NCLB are both necessary and beneficial for their schools, teachers, and students can elect to remain under its purview. But if a state’s residents feel that the responsibility for educating their children is best left in local hands, my bill will empower them to do so.
If we are truly interested in changing public education in America, we need to remove Washington bureaucrats from the equation and return the control and accountability to local communities where they can truly effect change in the areas they know it is needed the most.