Two lawmakers with plenty of experience and expertise on K-12 issues—U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo.—have teamed up to introduce a bill that seeks to make better sense of the maze of federal and state K-12 regulations and the intersection between the two.
State and federal regulations often crisscross in strange and nonsensical ways, the senators said on a recent conference call with reporters. For districts and schools, that might mean spending time on testing and compliance, not on teaching and learning, they said.
What’s worse: Schools might be afraid to try new strategies that could improve student outcomes because they aren’t sure if they’re allowed to spend federal dollars on them. For instance, Sen. Bennet said, it can be hard for districts to spend Title I money on response-to-intervention efforts.
“There’s no reason for that,” he said. “That makes it harder to deliver results for kids.”
Under the legislation, the U.S. Department of Education would start a national task force to examine which regulations and assessments schools have to comply with, and separate red tape from the stuff that has an impact on student learning.
And the senators are going to get started in their own home states: Tennessee, which won Race to the Top aid, and Colorado, which lots of folks argue should also have won a grant. Their respective governors—Gov. Bill Haslam, R-Tenn., and Gov. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo.—are on board. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is supportive.
But there’s also a political reason why this legislation is interesting.
Both senators have experience on education that predates their Senate careers—Sen. Bennet as the Denver schools superintendent; Sen. Alexander as education secretary under President George H.W. Bush.
And both have good relationships with Secretary Duncan. Sen. Alexander called him Obama’s best Cabinet pick; Sen. Bennet is the administration’s Senate soulmate on K-12 policy.
If a bipartisan push to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is going to catch fire, these two lawmakers seem likely to play a key role in bringing both sides together, at least in the Senate.
A version of this article appeared in the March 30, 2011 edition of Education Week as Lawmakers Team to Target Red Tape