Advice for Chairman Kline on “Flexibility”: Call Democrats’ Bluff

House education chairman John Kline released a bill last week that would provide “unprecedented” flexibility for states and local school districts around how they spend their federal education dollars. Predictably, liberals hate it (both reformers and the status quo); libertarians think it doesn’t go far enough.

The liberals’ stated beef is that the bill would allow districts and (especially) states to divert federal funds away from poor kids. And they are right. It would, and that’s unwise policy.

That’s easy to fix in a mark-up, though. Rather than allow states and districts to transfer funds from any number of programs into any number of other programs, just give them a green light to dump all of their federal money into Title I. That’s the best way to get the most money to the neediest kids. Then, follow the NEA’s advice (yes, I said the NEA) and allow more schools to do “schoolwide” Title I programs. (Schools could spend the money on general improvement activities rather than pullouts for needy kids.) Because Title I can be used for almost anything under the sun, the end result would be federal funding that is more targeted at poor kids, and much more flexible.

Many Democrats will still oppose this because it will allow states and districts to avoid spending money on stuff that Congressmen think are high priorities. At the end of the day, Democrats just don’t like ceding power to the states and local communities. But Republicans should call their bluff; take away the “equity” and “civil rights” concerns and make them defend their “Washington knows best” approach instead.

-Mike Petrilli

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