The GOP has taken an idea that President Clinton strongly supports–charter schools–and is using its basic premise to counter the President’s call for expanding the role of the federal government in education.
Just as states grant charter schools operating freedom in return for a commitment to deliver academic achievement, a major new GOP education initiative would give states increased control over the spending of federal education dollars in exchange for achieving specific and measurable performance objectives.
Republican leaders in both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate on June 22 announced the Academic Achievement for All Act, known as Straight A’s. The plan, introduced by House Education Committee Chairman William Goodling (R_Pennsylvania) and Senator Slade Gorton (R_Washington), would strictly limit the federal government’s ability to tell states and local school districts how to run their schools.
The Straight A’s initiative would permit states to combine funds from the major federal K_12 education programs they administer and then direct those funds to whatever educational purposes the governor and state legislature deem appropriate. States would be required to continue to provide for the equitable participation of students and teachers in private schools, as dictated by the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Participation in Straight A’s would give governors and state legislatures the freedom to implement or enhance programs they believe will work best to raise academic achievement in their states. For one state, improving teacher quality might be the top priority. For another, it could be reducing class size, ending social promotion, or putting technology in the classroom. The federal government’s role in participating states would change from CEO to investor.
In exchange for this flexibility, states would sign a five-year performance agreement with the U.S. Secretary of Education, similar to the performance contracts under which charter schools are held accountable. Unlike Washington’s current focus on strict compliance with process requirements–which produces substantial regulatory and paperwork burdens–the agreement instead would emphasize reducing achievement gaps between the highest- and lowest- performing students. States would be rewarded for reducing achievement gaps by at least 25 percent.
State officials spoke in favor of Straight A’s at two education hearings in Washington in early June, arguing that state efforts to improve academic performance would be enhanced by the proposed legislation. For example, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Education Cheri Pierson Yecke provided examples of schools in her state that were high-achieving despite having large numbers of low_income students.
“The federal government should not be directing education reform out of Washington, DC, and it is certainly not the President’s role to serve as principal, superintendent, or school board president of the thousands of local schools across the nation,” said Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
With the Straight A’s initiative, “states and school districts will finally enjoy the freedom to implement useful initiatives and to put performance over compliance with government requirements,” commented Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) dispenses $12 billion in federal education funds to some 60 programs that take almost 1,000 pages to describe and regulate. Straight A’s would make the federal government more a provider of financial aid than a setter of education policy.
For more information …
The full text of the Senate version of the Achievement for All Act is available on the Internet at http://thomas.loc.gov/home/c106query.html.