In-Depth: Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to give states more flexibility on how they spend money on education:
“Montana’s students deserve the best education our schools can give them. Montana educators and administrators know what their students need to succeed better than DC bureaucrats. That’s why I introduced this bill to expand local control of our schools so we can return federal education dollars back where they belong — closer to the classroom.”
Original cosponsor Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) adds:
“[The A PLUS Act] provides flexibility by allowing local governments to opt out of onerous federal guidelines and requirements. We have to get Washington out of the way, especially when it comes to raising our youth. While the votes are not there today to successfully eliminate the Department of Education, this is a good step to bring education decision-making back to state and local governments.”
House sponsor Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) says this bill would empower parents, teachers and local administrators to better address the needs of students and schools in their communities:
“Our North Carolina teachers and administrators have a tough job, one that is made harder by mandates from Washington that stymie opportunities for student growth. My A-PLUS Act will empower teachers and parents to ensure every child has access to a quality education, while lowering administrative burdens and allowing schools to focus on and invest in their most urgent needs – whether infrastructure, supplies or teachers."
Elsie Arntzen, Montana State Superintendent of Public Instruction, supports this bill. She says:
“In Montana, we know that parents and local communities best understand the educational needs of their students. Education should not be driven by a top-down approach from the federal government. I want to thank Senator Daines for sponsoring the A-Plus Act in Congress which will give local schools flexibility to better serve their students.”
Heritage Action supports this bill. Lindsey Burke, Director of the Center for Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation, says:
“[The A PLUS Act would g]ive flexibility to states and local communities, reduce administrative costs and the federal compliance burden associated with accessing federal education funding; and free states and localities from their role as compliance entities subordinate to the federal government, making them accountable to parents and taxpayers instead.”
The National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE) expressed opposition to this bill when Sen. Daines first introduced it in 2015. In a joint letter with a number of other organizations, including the AFL-CIO, NAACP, and National PTA, it expressed concerns that this bill could lead to voucher programs:
“[W]e oppose the incorporation of the A-PLUS Act or any version of an amendment that would allow Title I dollars to flow to private school institutions. The A-PLUS Act allows a state to use federal resources for any educational purpose permitted by state law. This means that a state with a school voucher program could redirect the bulk of its federal resources away from public schools towards private, religious schools as long as the state indicates they intend for the resources to assist “disadvantaged” students. The state would have complete discretion to distribute the dollars to any education entities they deem fit under state law regardless of the quality of these institutions and their ability to serve students who are struggling academically. Vouchers divert desperately-needed resources away from the public school system to fund the education of a few, select students, with limited, if any, real impact on student academic achievement. Instead of providing equal access to high quality education or setting high standards for accountability, voucher programs have proven ineffective, lack accountability to taxpayers, and deprive students of rights provided to public school students. The ‘choice’ in voucher programs lies with the schools –not with students or parents. Private schools may turn students away for a variety of reasons, while public schools are open to all.”
The NCPE also contended that voucher programs don’t improve educational outcomes:
“Vouchers do not improve academic opportunities. According to multiple studies of the District of Columbia, Milwaukee, and Cleveland school voucher programs, students offered vouchers do not perform better in reading and math than students in public schools. Moreover, voucher programs offer little accountability to taxpayers. Private school voucher programs usually do not require participating private schools to comply with the same teacher standards, curriculum, reporting, and testing requirements as public schools.”
This legislation has eight Republican Senate cosponsors in the 116th Congress. Its House companion, sponsored by Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), has 30 Republican House cosponsors.
Last Congres, this legislation had six Republican Senate cosponsors. Its House companion, sponsored by Rep. Walker, had 95 Republican House cosponsors. Neither bill received a committee vote. Sen. Daines also introduced this bill in 2015.
Of Note: The Republican Party generally advocates for local control of education. In a 2016 interview with Education Week. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, expressed his conviction that then-candidate Trump would enforce education laws the way Republicans want by “transfer[ring] accountability out of Washington back to the states.” He also said that Trump told him he was “very much for local control.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / skynesher)