This week, Congress is poised to send President Bush a far-reaching education plan that would dramatically change how federal education dollars are spent.
Ninth District Congressman Adam Smith, a longtime proponent of more flexibility for local schools and results-based accountability, hailed the package as “the biggest change in federal education policy since the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” in the late 1960’s.
“For the first time, we will measure a school’s success and take real, meaningful action when the school is failing,” Smith said. “It’s simply inexcusable that for so long, so many children - often low-income and minority children - have been wasting away in failing public schools. We’ve got to change that - every child deserves the opportunity to succeed.”
The bill would require states to establish a minimum level of educational standards and monitor schools’ progress on meeting those standards. Schools that fail to improve would be subject to additional assistance and action: after two years, schools would receive extra funding and federal assistance in developing a two-year improvement plan. Students may transfer to another public school and can use federal funds for private tutoring or summer school programs. If the two-year improvement plan fails to make the needed improvements, the school could have its staff and curriculum replaced or be converted into a charter school.
The legislation also allows school districts far more flexibility in determining how to spend federal funds.
“We used to have more than sixty federal education programs, and schools were required to spend each pot of money for a very narrow purpose,” said Smith. “Now, schools are going to have much for flexibility and will be able to determine where they need to spend money and can move funds between programs more freely. That’s critical if we want to have a school that adequately meets the needs of its students every year.”
Smith has been a longtime proponent of allowing greater local flexibility and results-based accountability in our public schools. After extensive discussions with teachers, administrators, parents, and education experts, Smith introduced the Empowering Local Schools Act in January of 2000. In 2001, he joined with fellow New Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) in introducing the Three R’s Act, which was very similar to the Empowering Local Schools Act.
Although the final education package does not exactly mirror these bills, it reflects many of the principles Smith has advanced in the education debate.
“I preferred to give states more flexibility in determining when to administer tests to students and to provide more funding based on a per-pupil and poverty formula instead of through grants,” explained Smith. “However, this bill is an enormous step in the right direction, and I’m proud to support the bill.”
This legislation authorizes changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and funding levels. However, Congress still needs to appropriate funds on an annual basis beginning next year. Smith says the fight for improved public schools is not over.
“It’s been a priority to me that we not only ensure public schools have adequate funding, but that we spend the money in the right way,” noted Smith. “We’re now making dramatic changes in how we send federal dollars to our local schools, and now Congress has to fulfill its end of the bargain with our local schools and ensure they have the resources to get the job done. Turning around failing schools, requiring that all teachers be qualified in the subjects they teach, and assisting students with tutoring and summer school will all cost money. ”
The bill is expected to be passed by the Senate and House this week and be signed into law before Christmas.
For more background on Smith’s education bill and position on the federal role of education, please see the following press releases, speeches, and op/ed pieces: