On July 7, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) introduced the State and Local Funding Flexibility Act, which would allow states and school districts to move dollars out of one program and spend them on a wide range of activities authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
“Superintendents and principals from across the nation repeatedly tell me they need more freedom to decide how federal education dollars should be used to support students. Washington bureaucrats cannot dictate how money is best spent in the classroom—those decisions should be left to the teachers, school administrators, superintendents, principals, and state leaders who have an integral knowledge of the needs of our kids,” Kline said. “The State and Local Funding Flexibility Act will help get the federal government out of the way of student achievement and encourage more innovative education reforms on the local level.”
The bill, which is the third in a series of education reform bills designed to revamp ESEA, drew sharp criticism from Democrats, who said it would siphon away money intended for poor and minority students. Miller added that the bill makes it “much more difficult” to continue in a bipartisan manner to rewrite ESEA.
“This back-door attempt at fulfilling campaign promises to dismantle the federal role in education will turn back the clock on civil rights and especially harm low-income and minority students,” said Representative George Miller (D-CA), top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “Pretending like the federal government doesn’t have a role won’t change why it exists, it won’t change the history of separate but equal, but it will endanger our schools, our economic stability, and our global competitiveness. The implications of a bill like this are disastrous for students, communities, schools, and the future of this country.”
Republicans say that funneling funding through separate programs limits states’ and school districts’ ability to apply federal funds to local education priorities that best serve the needs of their students.
Conversely, Democrats argue that the bill would allow school districts to use those funds arbitrarily for purposes for which the money was not intended. They also point out that there are several provisions in current law to promote flexibility, yet few states or school districts choose to utilize the options available.
Although much of the education policy community is against the bill, it has drawn support from some education groups, including the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). In a letter to Kline, AASA said the bill is “based on trust and confidence in teachers, principals, superintendents, and school boards” and will provide flexibility at the local level while “maintaining a sharp focus on the disaggregation of data and program reporting needed for prudent state and federal oversight.”
A spokesman for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told Education Week that the bill “doesn’t fix the real problems with NCLB and runs the risk of short changing students with the greatest needs.”
According to Education Week, states would be allowed to shift money out of the following programs: School Improvement Grants (SIGs) (state administration); Title I administrative funds; Migrant Education Program (MEP); Neglected and Delinquent program; Improving Teacher Quality State Grants; English Language Acquisition Grants; 21st Century Community Learning Centers; and the Education Jobs Fund. Additionally, school districts could transfer funds from Title I grants for disadvantaged kids; Migrant Education Program; Neglected and Delinquent program; Improving Teacher Quality State Grants; English Language Acquisition State Grants; Indian Education; and the Education Jobs Fund.
Money moved from these programs could go to the SIG program; Title I grants to districts; Reading First; MEP; Neglected and Delinquent program; Improving Teacher Quality State Grants; Mathematics and Science Partnerships; English Language Acquisition State Grants; 21st Century Community Learning Centers; Innovative Programs; Grants for State Assessments program; rural education programs; Indian Education Formula Grants; and services for early intervention under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.