Public schools in Michigan and across the country will soon have more freedom to decide how they administer federal education programs if a bill before Congress is passed into law, say the bill's sponsors.
The Academic Achievement for All Actdubbed "Straight A's"was introduced June 22 in the House by Representative Bill Goodling (R-PA), chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, and in the Senate by Senator Slade Gorton (R-WA), member of the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.
Goodling says Straight A's will focus the federal government's efforts "on academic results, instead of rules and regulations."
The bill allows state governments greater flexibility in managing up to 14 federal K-12 education programs on the condition that states sign a five-year "performance agreement" with the U. S. Secretary of Education. States or school districts that successfully boost student achievement would receive bonus federal funds, while those that fail would lose their flexibility and, in some cases, some of their federal funding.
"We know where education reform is working, and it is at the local and state level," says Michigan Representative Pete Hoekstra, a co-sponsor of the bill. "The Straight A's Act ensures that the federal government facilitates, rather than inhibits, real education reform." Hoekstra, a Republican, represents Michigan's 2nd Congressional District.
But critics of the bill say it does not go far enough in freeing state and local officials from the growing federal education bureaucracy.
"The main problem is that the federal government has absolutely no constitutional authority over education," says Richard Seder, director of education studies at the Los Angeles-based Reason Public Policy Institute. "This bill, while perhaps an improvement over the status quo, does nothing to reduce the federal government's role in what is strictly a state and local issue."
The federal government currently spends roughly $18 billion on education, 7 percent of the more than $266 billion total spent on education in the United States each year.
"The problem with education is not lack of funding," says Seder. "The way to improve education is to open the system up to competition and allow parents the freedom to send their children to the schools that they choose."
U. S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley attacked the bill, saying that it "fails to ensure that federal resources are spent effectively on practices that work." President Clinton has promised to veto it.