Policy: Budgets & Deficits

Jack Kingston: Washington entangles local schools with 'competitive' grants funded by parents' tax dollars

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Politics,Opinion,Congress,Education,Op-Eds,Budgets and Deficits,Appropriations Committee

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is coming to Capitol Hill Tuesday to justify the president's 2015 budget request before my committee. In addition to the usual overspending and generally wasteful nature of the federal involvement in our local schools, the Obama administration's penchant for “competitive grants” truly undermines local decision-making in your child's classroom.

Much of the $45.8 billion in discretionary spending proposed by the Department of Education is spent on Title I programs to help low-income and disabled children -- the most needy among our nation's children and the ones who can truly benefit from a hand up. This spending has received bipartisan support for years and can be effective, though it certainly deserves the skeptical oversight each and every government program should receive.

Instead of focusing on these core programs and making them work well, Duncan and President Obama are more interested in telling states and local school boards how they should teach kids by increasing spending on “competitive grant” programs.

A competitive grant from Washington means states get to compete for their own tax dollars by kowtowing to Obama, Duncan, and their teachers' union overseers. The Department of Education, by carrot and stick, can enforce their vision of schooling on classrooms throughout the country, all the while hiding behind it being “optional.”

The most notorious competitive grant is the Race to the Top program, the vessel through which the Common Core national education standards were coerced upon 45 states and the District of Columbia. By giving out waivers to the No Child Left Behind mandates and some Race to the Top dollars in exchange for Common Core compliance, the White House got its “Obamacare for education” imposed on states while claiming the initiative was voluntary, state-driven, and competitive.

The president’s 2015 budget doubles down on this strategy by proposing to spend taxpayer dollars on unauthorized and unproven competitive grant programs for the benefit of a handful of favored schools and teaching styles.

For example, the Race to the Top program has a similar mission to Title I funding (“identify and close longstanding educational opportunity and achievement gaps” and “closing the achievement gap between high- and low-performing children”, respectively) but is funded “competitively” instead of by formula. Formulaic grants are based on statistics and data, not the political decision of bureaucrats.

Likewise, IDEA formulaic grants (named for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), dispensed to ensure children with special needs are able to receive an education, are duplicated in the Obama budget, except now as part of an expanded Race to the Top 2.0 competitive grant. Instead of working to improve IDEA grants, the progressives in the administration set up a new program to explicitly give them more control in the classroom.

These competitive grants reduce flexibility for parents and teachers while saddling a school with burdensome reporting requirements. Once a school “wins” a grant, it agrees to install Duncan as puppet master and remove parents’ voices from the classroom.

These grants do not come cheap to the taxpayer, either. The schools must comply with the grueling paperwork requirements attached to all government programs. This takes teachers out of the classroom and traps them in the break room as they report to Washington on how they are fulfilling the demands of federal bureaucrats.

For half a century, Congress has redistributed trillions thinking it knows how to educate children better than their parents. In their belief that just a few billion more taxpayer dollars can solve every problem, the Department of Education has asked for more control over kids through “competitive grants” that let them pull the strings on local school boards. These new and expanded programs must be rejected and existing ones dismantled so that parents, with their children's teachers, can again make their own choices.

Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., is chairman of the House Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee and sponsor of H.R. 3339, the "One Size Does Not Fit All in Education Act." Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions for editorials, available at this link.
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