Politics & Policy

The House Wants Meaningful Education Reforms

And the president should want them, too.

It’s not easy for the average family to ensure that their child receives a quality education. And the federal government is not making it any easier.

When kids start school, families often have little choice over where they can go. Sometimes, children are forced into a failing school simply because their parents live in a certain district and that school is the only option.

Then, schools are bogged down by federal bureaucracy and one-size-fits-all national standards. This centralized approach results in programs and standards that don’t work for everyone and can distract teachers’ focus from what matters: teaching.

It’s no wonder that despite the 2.7 million students already enrolled at charter schools, another 1 million kids remained on waiting lists for such schools last year.

As a former trustee of the Kern Community College District in California, I recognize that problems with our education system continue into college, too. Today, the average college student graduates with $26,600 in debt, according to the Institute of College Access and Success’s Project on Student Debt. Ten percent of graduating students have $40,000 in debt. And when these students leave college, they face a static job market and stagnant wages.

America needs education reform on all levels to expand quality schools, build on past successes, and lower college debt.

Outside of the family, education is the greatest determinant of social mobility. Yet for decades, Washington has attempted to fix our education system with more centralization, more bureaucratic control, and more tax-and-spend gimmicks, all yielding the same sad results.

The House has a different plan. This week, we will focus on expanding equal opportunity in education through two bills: the Student Success Act and a bill to improve and expand 529 college savings plans.

To improve access to high-quality education before college, the Student Success Act, authored by Chairman John Kline (R., Minn.) of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, takes control away from the federal government and puts it back in the hands of the states and local schools. 

First, the SSA expands America’s already-successful charter school system and allows federal funds to follow low-income students to the public school of their parents’ choice, not the school dictated by district lines.

Second, the bill consolidates more than 65 duplicative and unnecessary programs into a single Local Academic Flexibility Grant that lets schools apply resources according to individual student needs.

Third, it preserves state and local autonomy by barring the Secretary of Education from forcing states to accept national academic standards like Common Core, and replaces federal school accountability schemes, including “Adequate Yearly Progress,” with state-led accountability systems that empower parents and local education leaders.

To reduce the college debt burden and promote a culture of saving, the House also passed a bill by Representative Lynn Jenkins (R., Kan.) to improve and expand tax-free 529 college savings plans.

Instead of the President’s budget proposal to tax middle-class families’ 529 accounts – now abandoned after an outcry from middle-class families – the House plans to improve access to these savings plans and reform the ways in which they can be used. This is a bipartisan effort to improve 529 accounts so even more students have the opportunity to receive a college education. We hope the President will stand with us in supporting it.

Real education reform starts with taking power out of Washington’s hands and giving it back to the people. That means school choice. That means local control. That means more college savings and less college debt.

To get that done, we just need President Obama to get on board.

Kevin McCarthy is the representative of California’s 23rd district and serves as the majority leader in the House of Representatives.

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