May 28, 1999

May 28, 1999 | News Releases on Education

President's Education Proposal Would Impede Real Reform, Report Says

WASHINGTON, MAY 28, 1999-Although the Clinton administration has made academic accountability the centerpiece of its plan to overhaul the soon-to-expire Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, its proposal would actually make this worthy goal harder to attain, a new paper by The Heritage Foundation says.

The plan-known as the Education Accountability Act of 1999-is flawed because it does not even mention raising student achievement as the aim of ESEA reform, say Heritage Education Policy Analyst Nina Shokraii Rees and Research Assistant Jacqueline Curnutte. Instead, the Clinton administration would encourage more bureaucratic oversight and continue funding school systems regardless of results.

The results of ESEA funding so far have been dismal, Rees and Curnutte say. Title I-the act's chief component and the federal government's largest education program-was established to close the academic gap between rich and poor children. Yet the government has poured more than $120 billion into Title I programs over the last 34 years without improving the relative achievement levels of poor students.

Unfortunately, the president's proposal does not address this problem, they write. Instead, it adds more bureaucracy by requiring states to develop plans for overhauling failing schools. These plans would have to be approved by the federal government. States would also have to issue "report cards" on their schools to Washington and institute "sensible discipline policies" that involve little more than putting additional funds into ineffective federal drug-education programs.

The best way for the federal government to boost accountability is to form "performance partnerships" with state and local governments-giving them more flexibility in using Title I funds in exchange for agreed-on academic improvements, Rees and Curnutte say. Congress should reward states and localities that succeed in improving academic achievement and apply strict sanctions to the ones that fail, including the withdrawal of federal funds when appropriate.

In addition, Congress should allow students-especially those in low-income school districts-to attend the public, private or religious school of their choice. School choice offers a chance for a better education to students now forced to attend the nearly 7,000 failing schools that receive Title I funding, Rees and Curnutte say.

Congress should also work to eliminate the fraud and abuse rife within current federal education programs. One audit in Michigan, for example, found that over the last five years more than $10 million in federal drug-education and -prevention funds were used to purchase everything from bicycle pumps and dog bones to giant toothbrushes and toy telephones.

"If Washington insists on investing in the nation's schools, then it is fair for taxpayers to expect their dollars to yield a positive return," they write.

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