A Costly Step Towards Reform

Published February 1, 2002

For Americans who favor limited government, and who acknowledge that regulation does not necessarily result in school improvement, Congress’s final reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in December perpetuates some undesirable trends, as well as taking some welcome steps towards reform.

Heritage Foundation analyst Krista Kafer notes that in return for the bill’s moderate improvements to the way federal aid to public education is administered, the ESEA will cost taxpayers $26.3 billion, if fully appropriated, in its first year. That cost could climb to more than $37 billion per annum by the end of the five-year authorization–triple the authorized spending for the 1994 ESEA.

Since 1965, the ESEA has burgeoned from 34 pages to 600 to more than 1,100 pages in the new enactment. The number of programs ESEA entails has increased from six to 60.

Despite all that, more than half of disadvantaged children scored below the bare-bones “basic” level on the most recent NAEP reading, math, and science tests. In addition, the achievement gap between poor and better-off children actually widened during the 1990s, even though the very purpose of Title I is to narrow the gap.

Parental choice advocates are hoping the moderate reforms achieved in the ESEA reauthorization will mark the start of a turn-around in those grim trends and lead to further reforms based on choice and accountability.

Robert Holland is a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute, a public-policy think tank in Arlington, Virginia. His e-mail address is [email protected].

For more information

The Heritage Foundation’s December 13, 2001 evaluation of the final bill–“A Small but Costly Step Toward Reform: The Conference Education Bill, ” by Senior Policy Analyst Krista Kafer–is available at Heritage’s Web site at www.heritage.org/shorts/20011213education.html.