Remember when then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said of Obamacare that Congress will "have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it"? Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) is now taking that approach with his attempt to revamp education in America. And just as that strategy was a terrible idea for health care, it's the wrong move for education, as well.
The Senate today will begin the markup of Harkin's 860-page proposal to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), now known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The proposal amounts to more new regulations and red tape that would be layered on to local school districts, maintaining the status quo of Washington-centric education reform. And the trouble is that the Senate hasn't even had time to parse through the proposed legislation, let alone hear from those whom it seeks to control. In an exclusive interview yesterday with The Heritage Foundation, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) explained his frustrations with the process:
The bill is 868 pages and we got it yesterday, and I talked to committee members today and said this isn't the way government should work. I thought we'd have hearings. We've had zero hearings on No Child Left Behind. I would think we'd have several significant hearings...Bring in the teachers, bring in the superintendents, bring in the principals and find out more about it. We've had none of that, and I think it's rotten.
Paul's solution to the problem? He has promised to introduce 100 amendments, including a complete repeal of NCLB, in order to slow down the committee and force them to take time to consider everything that's in Harkin's proposal.
And that's with good reason. The federal government's heavy-handed, top-down approach in education hasn't delivered results, as Heritage's Lindsey Burke writes:
This represents the ninth such bet since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and none has proved successful. NCLB, the most recent reauthorization of ESEA, has left local school districts crying out for more freedom from federal red tape and to have their educational decision-making authority restored.
Burke explains that among the proposals are codifying Obama Administration education priorities, such as the "equitable distribution" of effective teachers among schools and replacing existing federal standards with requirements that states prove they have "college- and career-ready" standards (giving Washington more control over the content taught in local schools). Meanwhile, any state that wants to receive money under Title 1 of the bill--the largest source of federal funding for K-12 education--will have to go along with the Obama Administration's new Common Core standards regime.
More federal involvement in education is not the way to help America's students succeed. It hasn't worked in the past, and there's no reason to believe it will work again. Meanwhile, ramming through an 860-page proposal that was authored behind closed doors isn't the way to transparently reform education, either. Burke says there's a better way:
Instead of, to quote Reagan, another 860 page "bureaucratic boondoggle," policymakers should work to reduce the federal footprint on education. A good proposal would allow states to completely opt out of No Child Left Behind. A good proposal would allow states to spend education dollars in a way that meets student needs and allow states to enact school choice options for families. But Washington hasn't learned its lesson after more than four decades of federal failure in education. Because what we're seeing now is a big government attempt to reinforce the failed status quo.
Slowing down the legislative process and fully considering the ramifications of Harkin's proposal is a good first start. But the next step should be for Congress to allow states to make their own decisions on how to best direct dollars to meet their needs.