April 7, 2007
By Dan Lips and Evan Feinberg
Congress may soon consider the reauthorization of the "
No Child Left Behind Act of 2001." Lawmakers should address,
among other problems, the massive administrative and bureaucratic
costs the federal government imposes on state and local
Since 1965, American taxpayers have invested more than
$778 billion on federal programs for elementary and secondary
education. This spending has been coupled with the growth of an
extensive federal education bureaucracy that consumes federal funds
and imposes administrative costs on states and local
The General Accounting Office reported in 1994 that
13,400 federally funded full-time employees in state education
agencies worked to implement federal education programs - three
times the number then working at the Department of Education.
The same report found that state education agencies were
forced to reserve a far greater share of federal than state funds
for state-level use - by a ratio of 4 to 1 - due to the
administrative and regulatory burden of federal programs.
Because it cost so much more to allocate a federal dollar
than a state dollar, 41 percent of the financial support and
staffing of state education agencies was a product of federal
dollars and regulations. In other words, the federal government was
the cause of 41 percent of the administrative burden at the state
level despite providing just 7 percent of overall education
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 dramatically increased
federal spending on and authority over public education in America.
According to the Department of Education, the Bush Administration's
budget request of $24.4 billion for NCLB in 2008 would be a 41
percent increase over 2001 spending. This budget request also
includes a 59 percent increase in Title I grants to local
But with these funding increases has come an increased
administrative burden on state and local authorities. NCLB created
new rules and regulations for schools and significantly increased
compliance costs for state and local governments. According to the
Office of Management and Budget, NCLB increased state and local
governments' annual paperwork burden by 6,680,334 hours, at an
estimated cost of $141 million.
A number of states have published reports estimating the
cost of complying with No Child Left Behind. For example,
Connecticut found that the state government would spend more than
$17 million in 2007 to comply with NCLB. Virginia estimated that
state implementation costs totaled approximately $20 million per
One way to reduce these costs would be to allow states to
opt out of NCLB. States could choose between the status quo and an
alternative agreement with the federal government. Under this
agreement, elected state officials would have broad authority to
consolidate existing federal programs and refocus funding on state
initiatives to improve academic achievement.
In exchange for this flexibility, states would continue
to monitor and report academic progress and pursue the broad goal
of improving educational opportunities for the disadvantaged that
has been the focus of federal policy since 1965. This approach
would restore federalism in education, allowing state leaders to
address local needs and priorities while increasing accountability.
A similar policy was proposed in the Bush Administration's original
blueprint for NCLB.
Cornyn (R-Texas) and Jim DeMint
(R-S.C.) and Rep. Pete
Hoekstra (R-Mich.) are proposing to make this option
available to states in a plan called "Academic Partnerships Lead Us
to Success," or "A PLUS." It would give states the opportunity to
use federal resources on locally directed programs without the
administrative burden of federal program requirements. More
resources would be available for classroom expenditures and other
education programs that local leaders believe would benefit
Importantly, under the House and Senate proposals,
public schools would continue to be accountable to parents and the
public through state-level testing and reporting that would ensure
transparency and a continued focus on improving students' academic
achievement. Since decisions would be made at the state level,
parents, taxpayers, teachers and school leaders would have a
greater opportunity to influence the decisions that affect local
Simplifying education policy in this way would bring
about greater transparency in federal education spending and,
ultimately, greater public accountability over taxpayer funding of
Dan Lips is an
Education Analyst and Evan Feinberg is a Research Assistant in
Domestic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation
First appeared in Fox News
Congress may soon consider the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Lawmakers should address, among other problems, the massive administrative and bureaucratic costs the federal government imposes on state and local authorities.
Senior Policy Analyst
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