Thursday, January 29, 2015

Kline Speaks on Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute

John Paul Kline, Jr. is a member of the Republican Party and  serves as the Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce

At an event hosted by AEI three years ago, I spoke about the failure of U.S. schools to teach our children what they need to know to thrive in the 21st century economy. I described the state of the American education system as “sobering.” As I look back, those words described the situation rather mildly. I wish I could say things have started to turn around, but they have not.

It’s estimated that one out of every five students will drop out of high school, which means every day thousands of children walk away from one of the best shots they have to earn success in their lifetimes. These young men and women will face fewer job prospects and lower wages, and be more dependent on government assistance to help pay the bills and put food on the table.

But don’t get me wrong. Just because a student receives a diploma doesn’t mean he or she is guaranteed success. Far too many high school graduates are entering the workforce with a sub-par education. According to the National Assessment for Educational Progress, only 38 percent of high school seniors can read at grade level and just 26 percent are proficient in math.

Each year countless parents have no choice but to send their kids to broken schools. Meanwhile, Washington talks about reform yet nothing changes. Something has to change.

I know you are all familiar with a little law known as No Child Left Behind. Signed by President Bush 13 years ago, enacting the law was the last time federal policymakers reformed our K-12 education system. Despite its best intentions, the law is failing to meet the needs of students.

For example, a one-size-fits-all federal accountability system hampers innovation and limits the ability of states and school districts to address their students’ needs. Outdated teacher quality measures fail to adequately capture how well teachers teach, and a massive investment of taxpayer resources has done little – if anything – to change the trajectory of student achievement levels.

Instead of working with Congress to replace the law, the Obama administration has spent the last several years offering states temporary waivers from the law’s most onerous requirements if states agree to new mandates dictated by the Secretary of Education. Congress wanted to provide relief, yet the administration said, “You can have relief, but only with strings attached.” Now states and schools are tied up in knots.

Allowing the Secretary of Education to act like the nation’s superintendent only creates confusion, uncertainty, and frustration. Another example is the ongoing debate around Common Core. What began as a voluntary effort at the state level to improve education standards has led to a broader revolt against federal overreach into our classrooms.

I support a state’s right to determine what its education standards will be. And I understand how important parental involvement at the local level is in determining how these standards are met. The Department of Education doesn’t have a role in this process. Secretary Duncan doesn’t have a role in this process – nor do any of his predecessors or successors.

Success in school should be determined by those who teach inside our classrooms; by state and local leaders who understand the challenges facing their communities; by parents who know better than anyone the needs of their children. 

Unfortunately, we have reached the point where too many decisions are made in Washington. While there are heroic efforts taking place in classrooms across the country, the federal government has more control over schools than ever before. It is making it difficult for educators to provide a quality education and countless children are paying the price. We need to do better. We have a moral obligation to do better.

That is why more than a year ago the Republican-led House passed the Student Success Act. The Student Success Act would have restored the balance between the federal government’s limited role and the responsibilities of states and local governments to deliver an excellent education to all students. The bill moved away from one-size-fits-all accountability requirements and eliminated the onerous “Highly Qualified Teacher” requirement that tells us nothing about teacher effectiveness.

The legislation also consolidated more than 70 ineffective and duplicative education programs into a Local Academic Flexible grant, giving districts maximum funding flexibility to support local efforts to increase student achievement.

The Student Success Act was the first comprehensive bill reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to be considered in Congress in more than 11 years. It was an important step to replace a flawed law, but unfortunately, it was the last step taken in the 113th Congress. Our Democrat colleagues in the Senate refused to consider the bill or any legislation addressing K-12 education, forcing schools to continue wrestling with a convoluted waiver scheme and broken law.  Fortunately, there are new allies in the Senate who share our sense of urgency.

Chairman Alexander has already begun the reauthorization process in the Senate and I look forward to partnering with him. He and I both agree that Congress needs to act because the status quo is failing our students. The stakes are too high to let this opportunity slip by. It’s time to reform the law so every child can receive the quality education they deserve.

Replacing No Child Left Behind would be a significant achievement for any Congress, but we need to do more. There are other windows of opportunity to improve education we must pursue.

As you may know, the Perkins Act provides federal funding to states to support career and technical education or CTE programs. The law helps high school and community college students access valuable training programs and hands-on experience necessary to gain an edge in the local workforce.
The best CTE  programs are known for their rigorous coursework and hands-on training in fields ranging from computer science and information technology to law enforcement and nursing.

However, like so many federal laws, this one needs to be reformed as well. We need to do a better job connecting coursework with industry demands and local labor market needs. We also need to help students as they leave high school and prepare to enroll in a college or university. Finally, we need to enhance accountability to help ensure taxpayer dollars are well spent. A number of my committee colleagues are passionate about this issue and eager to get to work improving the law.

Last but not least, we need to strengthen higher education so more Americans can turn the dream of an advanced degree into reality.

A college degree is a good investment, yet for many the cost is simply too great. Others struggle to fit the traditional college experience into an already hectic lifestyle that may include family, work, or both. What can we do to help address these challenges?

First, we have to empower students and families to make informed decisions. Students and families should have access to the best information that is easy to understand.

Second, we need to simplify and improve student aid. Let’s pull students and families out of the current maze of programs and help students receive a clearer picture of their financial aid in a more timely manner.

Third, we need to promote innovation, access, and completion. Innovation is the key to giving families more affordable choices in higher education.
We also need to strengthen programs that encourage access and help ensure every student who enrolls in an institution completes their education.

Fourth and finally, we must provide strong accountability and preserve a limited federal role. We need to ensure taxpayer dollars are well spent, but also be mindful that federal rules and reporting requirements add administrative costs on schools – costs that are typically passed on to students in the form of higher fees and tuition.


Restoring Local Control of Education: A Silver Bullet for Common Core

Two federal bills would restore education control to the states and stop Common Core for good

The massive unpopularity of Common Core education standards has served as a rallying cry for concerned parents and teachers to get involved in politics—sometimes for the first time in their lives. Nothing galvanizes grassroots activism like the realization that the government is failing our children. These efforts have been remarkably successful, with three states repealing Common Core outright last year, and many state-level bills already being introduced in the new Congress.

This has been a great and inspiring movement, yet even in states like Indiana that passed a full repeal of Common Core, parents have been frustrated by the implementation of new standards that are different in name only, and require much of the same backwards pedagogy and excessive testing as Common Core.

The reason for this is that the federal government is using funding from the president’s Race to the Top program as an incentive for states to adopt “college and career ready standards.” If states try to take an independent path on education, the Department of Education can punish them by denying them billions of dollars in grants, as well as waivers to the failed No Child Left Behind program.

To truly reform education, we need to restore local control and stop the federal government from being able to bully the states into doing its bidding. Fortunately, two recently introduced bills in the Senate propose to sever the ties between federal funding and state adoption of standards, curricula, and testing requirements.

The Local Leadership in Education Act (S. 144), introduced by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), and the LOCAL Level Act (S. 182), introduced by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to forbid the federal government from requiring that states implement any standards as a condition of funding, grants, or waivers. This would free up the states to set their own education policy and finally loosen the federal government’s grip on what was always intended to be a local issue.

Congress is likely to hold a vote to reauthorize ESEA later this year. If the language of either of these bills were to make it into a reauthorization package, the implications would be huge. This year, we finally have the chance to stop Common Core in all fifty states by restoring local control of education, a first step in setting American students on the path to more choice, better schools, and a better future.


Obama Proposes Eliminating Tax Cut Designed to Help Families Save for College

The Obama administration will soon propose raising taxes on middle-income families struggling to save for college–at a time when college costs are higher than they’ve ever been.

For years, families have been using 529 college savings accounts. Once you invest after-tax dollars in these accounts, the money grows tax-free and you can withdraw the initial capital and the interest acquired without facing federal tax penalties if you use the money for education expenses.

But now President Obama wants to tax the money made from those investments–a move that the New York Times called “a radical change” that would “discourage savers from using the accounts because the withdrawals would be taxed as ordinary income.”

Under Obama’s proposal, if families withdrew money that had been earned from investments from these accounts for college expenses, they would now have to pay taxes on that income.

Some have already pointed out that the proposal could also reduce the amount of federal financial aid for which a student is eligible, since that newly taxable income would be recognized by the Internal Revenue Service.

The administration’s policies are creating disincentives for those who save for college while advancing policies in which federal government directs college spending, lending and handouts.

At a time when college tuition is more expensive than ever, we should be encouraging families to save – and should certainly not be penalizing families in favor of Uncle Sam stepping in to provide things like “free” community college and student loan “forgiveness,” as the administration has proposed.

Financing the administration’s push for “free” community college, announced earlier this month, appears to be the impetus for the proposal to tax family savings. The money acquired via taxing the 529 accounts earnings will be used to offset the costs of giving two years of “free” community college to everyone.

The White House’s plan for the federal government to finance free community college will encourage increased spending on the part of the community college system, will not provide any benefit to low-income students (who can already use Pell Grants to pay for tuition at community colleges), and will crowd-out the for-profit college sector. It’s also likely to result in a 6-year high school system, since high schools may feel less responsibility to fully prepare students by 12th grade, if they know a “grade 13” and “grade 14” await.

The administration’s tax proposal would also strike a similar blow to Coverdell savings accounts. Coverdell accounts allow parents to save up to $2,000 per year for a child’s K-12 educational expenses. While contributions to Coverdell accounts are made with after-tax dollars, like 529’s, interest earned on contributions accrues free from federal income taxes. President Obama’s proposal would limit educational options for elementary and secondary students.

In its quest for a federally funded “cradle-to-career” education system, the administration is crowding out the most important ingredient in educational success: families, and their ability to save for and direct their own children’s education.


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