Our guest blogger is Theodora Chang, education policy analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Today, House Republicans unveiled a detrimental education bill to allow states and school districts greater flexibility to spend the federal dollars they receive. What’s so bad about more flexibility? While it may sound like good policy, the fine print reveals that increased autonomy comes at a high price — the State and Local Funding Flexibility Act would make it easier for districts to cut or eliminate funding for programs that serve students who need them most.
The primary purpose of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the nation’s main federal education law, is to ensure that states and districts provide equitable services to disadvantaged students. However, the State and Local Funding Flexibility Act would negate this, as it allows districts to yank money away from low-income students, English language learners, and at-risk students including homeless youth. According to House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN), this is acceptable if there are more important priorities:
“There are segments of the school population that the federal government has stepped in over years to provide funding for to address a specific problem — English language learners, poor kids, and they feel like the federal government needs to keep control of the money going to those specific kids. What the superintendents will tell you and tell me is, ‘We need, for example, to upgrade computers across the whole school and it will help all the kids. I don’t have the money to do that and I need it, I’ve got money over here for, say, English Language Learners and I really don’t need all that money there.’ There is a constituency that says ‘Oh no, you can’t spend that money in another category.’ I think it inhibits the progress of all the kids.”
In spite of Kline’s optimism, states and districts continue to struggle with meeting the needs of their most vulnerable students. There is very little reason to assume that they would make more progress if they are given blanket flexibility and left to their own devices.
Instead of serving disadvantaged students and promoting efficiency, the bill safeguards funding for unproven programs and could actually increase the administrative burdens on state education agencies. Districts would be required to continue interventions such as school choice and tutoring services, even though research has shown that these programs are weak approaches to improving schools. In order to respond to district applications for flexibility, states would spend additional time processing paperwork — something Republicans have repeatedly said they want to reduce.
Conservatives in Congress continue to promote a cut-and-run approach to education — cut funding and flee from the federal responsibility of ensuring that states and districts meet the needs of all of their students. Earlier this year, Kline stated that “children in America are being shortchanged.” It is unfortunate that his legislation will further exacerbate this problem instead of fixing it.