Wednesday night, members of the House of Representatives had the opportunity to consider a measure known as Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A-PLUS), which would allow states to completely opt out of the programs and regulations of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which provides federal funding for elementary and secondary education. A-PLUS has long been a conservative policy priority, as it would restore state and local control of education by enabling states to direct their federal education funding in a way that meets their own education priorities, instead of filtering that funding through dozens upon dozens of ineffective Department of Education–approved programs.
Wednesday night, A-PLUS received the support of 195 members of the House, demonstrating overwhelming consensus among conservatives in Congress that it is a smart way forward on federal education policy.
Representative Mark Walker (R., N.C.), who sponsored the A-PLUS amendment along with Representative Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), noted, “States and taxpayers should be able to keep their dollars, opt out of federal education programs without repercussion and focus on the needs of their students and communities. Greater flexibility will yield greater accountability. A-PLUS would truly restore local control of education.”
So how exactly would A-PLUS work?
It would allow states to issue a “declaration of intent” to the U.S. Department of Education, signaling their desire to exit the NCLB programs and provisions. The Department of Education must approve the declaration of intent as long as it: lists the programs the state wishes to opt out of; includes an assurance that the declaration has been approved by the state officials who have authority in the matter; specifies that the declaration is good for five years; provides an assurance that the state will exercise fiscal control; adheres to all civil-rights laws; advances educational opportunities for disadvantaged children; and includes a plan for accountability to parents and taxpayers.
So long as the declaration includes all the provisions listed above, the U.S. secretary of education is required to recognize the state’s request to opt out of NCLB. A-PLUS would send the NCLB funding back to the state, allowing it to direct funds to any educational purpose recognized under state law.
State and local officials are far closer to the students their decisions affect than distant federal policymakers in Washington, D.C.
State and local officials are far closer to the students their decisions affect than distant federal policymakers in Washington, D.C. They’re closer to parents and taxpayers, and better positioned to hear their concerns and priorities. And they’re likely to be better stewards of their taxpayers’ dollars, and more accountable to parents for educational outcomes.
It’s also worth noting that we have seen tremendous innovation in the states over the past few years, sending yet another signal to Washington that it’s time to put local officials and parents in control of the states’ education policies. Nevada’s recently enacted education savings account (ESA) is a great example of that innovation. The parents of every single public-school student in the Silver State will now be eligible to open an education savings account, enabling them to direct their share of state education funding to any education option of their choice. They can use those funds for private-school tuition, online learning, special-education services, textbooks, curricula, and a host of other education-related services, products, and providers. It’s School Choice 2.0, and it is a beacon of state-based innovation.
So instead of continuing to spend some $24 billion on dozens of ineffective and duplicative federal programs, we should give states the opportunity to decline participation in NCLB and use their funding on the education initiatives that work for their communities. It is, after all, the taxpayers’ money.
— Lindsey Burke is the Will Skillman fellow in education policy at the Heritage Foundation.