Students, Families Need Less Mandate, More Education Freedom from Feds

If you think the federal government has a benign effect on Colorado education, then you’re just not paying attention. Look at all the fuel it’s thrown onto the fire of the Common Core debate — here in Colorado and elsewhere.

The U.S. Department of Education’s work of linking Common Core to the federal Race to the Top grant program raised a lot of red flags. But according to a new Education Week story, a number of school districts now are rejecting the funds for other reasons:

Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio all have had some local districts or charter schools bail out on their Race to the Top program, though many did so early on. The reasons for backing out are as varied as the states and districts themselves, though a central complaint has been that the district-level grants issued to pay for the states’ Race to the Top requirements fell short of their actual costs.

According to some, there are cases where the strings tied to the federal money are more painful and costly then the cash grant that accompanies them. The Kit Carson School District on Colorado’s Eastern Plains was way ahead of the curve on this issue — at one point rejecting federal dollars altogether.

I say the least we can hope for is attaching federal dollars to students in need and giving them more choices. Less overhead, less mandate, more empowerment. Or, as Rick Hess puts it, a “much more humble vision” than the standard operating procedure from Washington, D.C., since well before my time.

Under two new Congressional proposals — the “Scholarship for Kids Act” and the “CHOICE Act” — states would have the option to give Title I funds directly to low-income and special needs students to use to pay for private tuition. Not an entirely brand new concept, but one that ought to earn broad support.

The American Federation for Children is spot-on when they say these two complementary proposals are about increasing opportunity. And when Jay Greene heads his posting with the title “Federal Education Ideas I Can Support,” that ought to get an informed observer’s attention.

Taking power from federal bureaucrats and giving it to states, and ultimately to parents and students? How refreshing is that! Less of the heavy-handed programs, and more that sets families free. It sounds too good to come from Congress. But a kid can dream a bit, can’t he?