The Dead Hand of Federal Education Reform

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 9, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Dead Hand of Federal Education Reform


Byline: Lindsey Burke, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Federal education assistance is becoming more of a bug than a boon in the nation's classrooms. An ever-expanding web of federal programs, rules and regulations has fueled a significant expansion of state education bureaucracies. To keep federal funds flowing, state education systems and local school districts must satisfy Washington's compliance demands first. The needs of students, parents and taxpayers come a distant second.

What started in 1965 as a front in President Johnson's War on Poverty has metastasized into a $50-billion-a-year Cabinet level operation that reaches into virtually all school districts, rich and poor alike.

First passed in 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has been reauthorized eight times. In 2001, it was renamed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). But no matter what the moniker, with nearly every reauthorization, Congress has added new niche grant programs, each aimed at addressing a particular problem in education.

And, of course, each new program has its own set of rules and regulations to assure fair play in the grant-making process and accountability on the part of grant recipients.

The result: Today, the U.S. Department of Education operates more than 100 separate grant programs. Under NCLB alone, federal bureaucrats this year will dole out nearly $25 billion on more than 60 competitive grant programs and another 20 formula grant programs.

Completing grant applications, monitoring the federal program notices and complying with reporting requirements siphons away huge amounts of educators' time and money - resources that would be much better devoted to the classroom. A 1994 Government Accountability Office report on education finance found that, while the feds provided just 7 percent of education funding, they accounted for 41 percent of the paperwork burden imposed on the states. Indeed, the report found that the states have had to hire 13,400 workers just to oversee compliance with all the red tape.

It only got worse with the passage of NCLB. By 2006, its new guidelines and regulations were estimated to have increased state and local education agencies' annual paperwork burden by 6. …

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