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March 16, 2011

March 16, 2011 | News Releases on

Heritage Expert: Reviewing Past Mistakes Is Lesson One

Washington, D.C., March 15, 2011--Congress needs to take stock of the daunting burdens of paperwork and red tape imposed by expanding federal regulation of local schools and beware creating new obstacles to student success, an education expert from The Heritage Foundation testified today before a House subcommittee conducting the first such review in over a decade.

“A half-century of always-expanding and ever-shifting federal intervention into local schools has failed to improve achievement,” Jennifer A. Marshall, director of domestic policy studies at Heritage, the leading Washington think tank, said in her testimony to the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education.

“It has also undermined direct accountability to parents and taxpayers,” Marshall added, “while encouraging bureaucratic expansion and empowering special interests.”

Marshall identified three major costs of compliance with federal education policy:

“Even the GAO [Government Accountability Office] has had a hard time counting up all the education programs,” Marshall told the subcommittee, “Using a narrow definition, GAO determined in 2010 that there were 151 K-12 and early childhood education programs in 20 federal agencies, totaling $55.6 billion annually.”

  • Administrative set-asides and red tape dilute how much taxpayer money reaches the classroom after multiple layers of bureaucracy.

Marshall noted that school officials in Fairfax County, Va., devoted a day to train personnel on requirements of the law known as No Child Left Behind. For what they spent coaching 14,000 teachers and 1,000 administrators on how to fall in line with Uncle Sam, they could have hired and paid 86 instructors for a year.

  • State bureaucracies keep growing to comply with federal programs, creating a “client mentality” that undermines accountability to parents and other taxpayers.

“Accountability is important, but accountability to whom and for what?” Marshall asked the panel, chaired by Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.). “The status quo focuses on fine-tuned, aggregate calculations that are most useful for bureaucrats to chart the progress of a school, district or state so they can apply federal carrots and sticks.”

The hearing, “Education Regulations: Burying Schools in Paperwork,” is one of a series designed by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, to tutor the new Congress on the record of federal failure in education policy. Meanwhile, President Obama seeks to convince lawmakers that No Child Left Behind needs only some carefully calibrated tweaks to propel every child into “winning the future.”

Also testifying today were James Willcox, CEO of Aspire public schools in Oakland, Calif.; Chuck Grable, assistant superintendent for instruction at Huntington, Ind., Community School Corp.; and Robert Grimesey Jr., schools superintendent in Orange County, Va.

Marshall suggested that Hunter’s subcommittee and other policymakers will need to review much updated information from GAO and others if they are to decide how best to “restore dollars and decision-making to those closest to the student.”

“Washington’s role currently stands in the way of that objective, and the first order of business is to take stock of that obstacle,” she said.

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