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Senate, act on school legisation

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Around Minnesota teachers, parents and students are preparing for a new school year. While the back-to-school season is a time of excitement and promise, it’s also a time when the difficulties confronting many classrooms come into sharp focus.

As chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, I recently brought together teachers, parents, principals and school administrators for an education roundtable. One of the concerns educators continually express is the federal government’s growing intrusion in schools and classrooms. Educators and parents, not federal bureaucrats, know best what our children need to be educated and equipped for the future. Yet too often they are being second-guessed by policymakers in Washington.

These concerns are shared by individuals across the country. A national survey by Gallup found many Americans don’t approve of the way the federal government has become a national school board. Nearly six in 10 believe their school board should have the greatest influence in deciding what is taught in classrooms.

The Department of Education operates more than 80 programs tied to K-12 classrooms. Many of these are duplicative or ineffective, and each comes with its own set of rules and reporting requirements. Despite these programs and trillions of dollars in federal spending over the last 40 years, student achievement remains flat.

It’s time to acknowledge federal intrusion cannot address the challenges facing schools. And it’s time to realize our children deserve better.

That is why I introduced and the House passed the Student Success Act, legislation that would streamline the federal bureaucracy by eliminating dozens of convoluted programs, cutting through the red tape stifling innovation in the classroom and granting states and school districts greater authority to use federal funds to meet the unique needs of their students.

The legislation also prohibits the Department of Education from coercing states into adopting specific academic standards and imposing extraneous conditions on states and school districts. It prioritizes local decision-making by empowering states to develop and implement policies that are more closely aligned with local priorities. Finally, the bill maintains a robust federal investment in education and ensures taxpayer dollars are spent more efficiently and effectively.

Any effort to help more students access a quality education must include charter schools. Accordingly, I helped champion the bipartisan Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act. The bill was supported by more than 150 House Democrats and will provide new hope for children and their families.

Both these efforts improving K-12 education passed the U.S. House of Representatives months ago. Unfortunately, both proposals are collecting dust in the U.S. Senate. It’s time for the Senate to act so we can finally reform a broken education system.

Congress has a responsibility not only to fix broken policies, but also to honor our commitments.

Almost 40 years ago, Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to ensure children with disabilities would receive the same educational opportunities as their peers. The law includes a promise to fund 40 percent of the excess cost of special education and related services. However, the federal government has never kept that promise. We have never even come close and these vulnerable students are paying the price.

Earlier this year, I met with parents, students, educators, and administrators at Northfield High School to discuss special education. I toured classrooms where teachers work hard to deliver a quality education to special needs students. Congress must support their work, not make it more difficult.

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