WASHINGTON — The contentious battle over Common Core and other education policy now playing out in Louisiana is coming to Congress.
The Republican-led House Education and Workforce Committee reported out legislation Feb. 11 on a party-line vote that would give states and school districts autonomy over selecting student achievement tests, specifically barring the Education Department from directly or indirectly attempting to “influence, incentivize or coerce” states to adopt the Common Core educational standards.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has sued the federal government, arguing that awarding Race to the Top funding is effectively dependent on adopting Common Core Standards, which he once supported and now opposes.
The Republican legislation would also significantly change other federal education policies. It would allow Title I federal funding intended for schools with high numbers of low-income students to follow children to their public or charter school choice.
Not included in the bill is proposed amendment that would have allowed Title I funding to follow low-income students if they and their parents opt to go to a private or religious school. That issue is likely to come up again when the bill reaches the House floor.
The committee-passed legislation also would block grant several federal education programs, reduce requirements that states allocate certain levels of funding to qualify for federal funds and eliminate some 65 federal education programs that Republicans label as ineffective.
Republicans said it would return decisions about education where they belong — to state and local governments. Democrats said it would take needed resources from schools serving the poorest students, and allow states to significantly reduce their investments in public education.
The Obama administration said in a report Friday that the funding allocations included in the Republican bill would mean far less aid to school districts.
For Louisiana, the White House report said proposed funding levels in the House GOP education bill would result in a drop in Title 1 funding between 2016 and 2021 from $1.89 billion to $1.753 billion, or $146 million.
For 2014, the legislation would result in a cut in Title 1 funds for Orleans Parish of $7.3 million, or 19.7 percent; in East Baton Rouge Parish Schools, $1.6 million, or 5.9 percent and in Jefferson Parish Schools, $1.2 million, or 5 percent.
House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., said the White House report relied on administration spending proposals that have consistently been rejected by Congress.
“In fact, in past years, the president’s budget requests have been soundly rejected by both Republicans and Democrats,” Kline said. “The White House has entered the realm of make-believe in order to falsely suggest states will lose money, when in reality the Student Success Act maintains current K-12 education spending and even increases funding for low-income students.”
Kline said the GOP education bill gives state and local officials much more say over education and makes the most of limited federal resources.
“The Student Success Act also offers states and families new opportunities to rescue children from failing schools. Encouraging good schools to serve more low-income students is the right thing to do,” Kline said. “Ensuring low-income children receive the best possible education and their fair share of federal assistance is the right thing to do. It is disappointing the White House and powerful special interests are rallying against these commonsense reforms.”
But Democrats decried the bill as major step back from the federal government’s role of targeting resources to low-income and disabled students.
“Numerous analyses demonstrate that Title 1 portability will take away resources from our poorest schools and districts and give them to more affluent ones, undermining the historical federal role of targeting aid to our neediest students,” said Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va. Republicans said the plan allows states to either opt in or out of the portability provisions for Title 1 funding.
The issue of whether to allow Title 1 funding to follow poor children to private/religious schools is likely to be contentious — when the bill reaches the House floor. In Louisiana, Gov. Jindal has faced court challenges for his program to offer state-financed scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools.
“The fact is lots of kids go to great schools in America, but too many don’t,” said Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., who is pushing for Title 1 portability to private schools. “And that’s not OK. We cannot rest until every child has access to a great school.”
The National Coalition for Public Education opposes Title 1 portability for public schools, but says extending that concept to private and religious schools would be even worse.
“We oppose vouchers for many reasons, including that they do not improve academic achievement; threaten religious liberty by predominantly flowing to religious schools; undermine civil rights protections; and contain virtually no accountability measures,” the coalition said in a letter to Senate Education Committee members.
Jindal, a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, offered up his own educational plan on Monday (February 9), which emphasizes three points: school choice, teacher tenure and “educator freedom.” The “educator freedom” component is primarily focused on Jindal’s opposition to Common Core. You can read his plan here.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote Friday that Congress needs to thread the needle in coming up with a new education law with the right accountability provisions that provide parents with information about their children’s and school performance without being excessive.
“It should provide support and funding to cut back on the time devoted to standardized testing in places where testing is excessive, without walking away from annual statewide assessments that provide valuable information to drive improvement and are critical to measuring growth instead of just proficiency,” Duncan wrote in a blog post.