- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2001

With Sens. Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, Jim Jeffords, Vermont Independent, and the Democrats now in control as the ruling majority, one group will quickly emerge as the early beneficiary of this historic power shift the status quo.
When it comes to education, the status quo is a damning blow to the hopes and dreams of millions of school-age children. Parents of students who cannot afford private schools have the most to fear.
Under President Bushs "No Child Left Behind" education agenda, states and local schools would receive greater flexibility in implementing federal initiatives in exchange for greater accountability for student achievement.
The president understands that while the federal government can lead the debate in education reform, real change must begin at the local level, sound thinking that has been missing from our federal education policy over the past decade.
However, the incoming Senate Leadership is already calling for additional funding for the existing failed federal education programs. The same empty programs that have produced only negligible increases in student SAT scores over the past 20 years, and no increases in National Assessment of Education Progress scores for fourth graders in reading over the past eight years.
Over the past 25 years, the federal government has spent nearly $125 billion on education. Today, the federal government provides about 7 cents of every educational dollar spent in our country. However, through the strings attached to these dollars, the feds have increased their influence on educational policy and programs at all levels.
Unfortunately for our students, Washingtons "big picture" command and control of our education policy is one of the main roadblocks that has caused stagnant test scores and failing student achievement. If gridlock reigns supreme in Congress and no real educational leadership is able to emerge, then the status quo will be the winner and our children the losers.
President Bush realizes that often it is federal programs, regulations and paperwork that get in the way of promising reforms at the state and local levels. So why do many members of Congress still feel the need to pass blanket "one-size-fits-all" educational programs that force local school officials to choose between targeting education areas that they believe are in greatest need or buckling under to Washingtons schemes and mandates?
One such program that is sure to be offered during the upcoming Senate debate is an initiative sponsored by U.S. Senators Christopher Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, and Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican, that would place sweeping new federal requirements before any school engages in a public-private partnership.
The Dodd-Shelby initiative would require all schools to send out, and require in return, new paperwork from every parent in a school before engaging in many existing public-private partnerships. This initiative would mandate an enormous amount of paper work be compiled by all schools and school districts and could disrupt the affairs of virtually every school in the country. Also, the huge administrative burden could prohibit many kinds of innovative school programs and advances in in-school technology that are being implemented today in order to foster advancement in student achievement.
If the Dodd-Shelby initiative is implemented, then along with the huge burden of compliance is an even more drastic penalty for failure to comply loss of federal funds under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Our states do not need more federal command-and-control of local education practices. Decisions as to the structure of public-private partnerships in education should be left in the hands of local officials and educators. Those closest to their students know best the unique needs of the school. The decision-making process would therefore best be made at the local level.
If schools, local governments or state governments wish to require parental consent for information gathering in schools, they are free to do so.
If we want to promote education reform in America, then we need to look beyond the status quo and stop this stream of unnecessary and extremely burdensome federal mandates. Only by allowing states and local schools to make the decisions and giving them the freedom to focus on those programs and initiatives that will produce the best results for their students will real progress be made in our schools.

Andrew LeFevre is the education task force director for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nations largest bipartisan, individual membership organization of state legislators.


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