Arizona’s children and teachers are now back to school. The current federal plan for education, known as No Child Left Behind, is broken.
It is past time to replace this system with one that works for communities, educators, parents, and children. During my time in Congress, I have successfully fought for meaningful education reform. I successfully had the House pass my charter school amendment to the Department of Interior appropriations bill and removed the ban on new charter schools on Indian Reservations.
I have reservations about the proper role of the federal government in education.
Education has traditionally been a local issue. No one knows better what methods and programs work best than the people on the ground in the community.
In recent years, the federal government transformed from an entity that simply provided funding — to an entity that dictated programs and results. When it comes to education, one size does not fit all. That is why I am a co-sponsor of the A-PLUS Act. This Act allows each state the option of receiving the federal funds already allocated to them in a block grant form, to achieve the goals that the state sets forth in a five-year performance agreement approved by state officials.
The plan could encompass anything allowed by state law, but the state must follow all applicable federal laws and show educational progress.
The purpose behind A-PLUS is to allow state and local officials on the ground to enact solutions that will be effective for the unique population of their state. We know that under the current system, only 65 cents of every dollar or so are used on actual classroom resources.
Arizona is already making a difference by supporting its charter schools. Charter schools are primary and secondary schools that receive public money, as well as private donations, to operate within public school districts.
Charter schools operate under performance contracts that describe the school’s mission, goals, students served, and tools and benchmarks to measure progress. In exchange, the charter school is often exempt from many onerous administrative requirements that govern traditional public schools. This concept has fostered thousands of local educational laboratories that are paving the way for new and innovative ways to teach kids for whom their local public school system has failed.
Charter school programs have expanded to 41 states and the District of Columbia in 20 short years since the first charter school law was passed in Minnesota in 1991. Arizona has a strong pro charter school culture and in fact, one-fourth of Arizona’s public school children currently attend a charter school. This week, the House of Representatives passed the Empowering Parents Through Quality Charter Schools Act, to remove some of the federal barriers that currently exist to setting up a charter school. I voted for this bipartisan piece of legislation along with 364 of my colleagues and I urge the Senate to approve it.
There are few places in the nation more in need of bold education reform than the District of Columbia. The public school system in D.C is one of the worst in the nation. The District regularly shows abysmal test scores and shamefully low graduation rates. Congress has management authority over D.C.
One of the first legislative efforts on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on which I serve, was to approve the SOAR Act, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. I was a primary co-sponsor and fought for this program on the committee. The program provides for a private school scholarship program in the District, as well as further funding for the city’s charter schools and public schools.
This Act was passed into law as part of the April Continuing Resolution.
I believe that true education reform lies in increased parental involvement, local control, high standards of accountability, and the flexibility for teachers to pursue what they know to be the best course of learning for each student.
I am doing my part in Congress to make that happen and am excited for the future of American education if we can pull together and enact these changes. My grandfather would remind me to never stop learning. That is a lesson our government can use.