If Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has his way, schools will be mostly autonomous from the federal government -- for a while.
Bishop introduced legislation recently that is meant to free states from the regulations of the No Child Left Behind Act. The Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success Act, or House Bill 2514, would permit states to spend federal funds as they see fit -- not as a federal act like No Child Left Behind mandates -- as part of a five-year agreement with the U.S. Secretary of Education.
"The overall system that we have tried for almost five decades now of more regulation, more top-down authority ... has been an abysmal failure," Bishop said.
Utah ranked 41st in the nation for education performance in Education Week's annual "Quality Counts" report, which was released in January.
Under the agreement, schools must show improvement or else risk having the agreement canceled.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which has to be renewed every five years, was eventually augmented by the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. Lawmakers such as Bishop are trying to change the act again now that it's up for renewal.
"This legislation would give educators and parents the flexibility necessary to make the changes this country needs," Bishop said.
But such a bill has opponents who hope it's not passed as is.
In April, Sens. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, and John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced the act on their side of Congress as Senate Bill 827. Though The Education Fund, a low-income student advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., does not have an official statement on Bishop's legislation, it does have qualms with the Senate counterpart.
The federal money includes Title 1 funds that are primarily aimed at helping disadvantaged students.
SB 827 would give states the ability to strip funds from critical low-income student programs that federal regulations currently mandate they spend, the group wrote in a news release. It also writes that states already have a lot of flexibility on how to spend those funds.
Bishop's office rebuts this.
Under HB 2514, a state must outline how it will improve education for disadvantaged students and close the achievement gap in its proposed agreement with the U.S. Secretary of Education. The secretary holds the power to ask a state to amend its proposal before it enters into the agreement, or else the proposal could be denied.
The act would also make schools more accountable to local residents, because local officials are in charge of how the money is spent, Bishop said.
"Instead of being accountable to some bureaucrat in a dark room in Washington, they're accountable to parents and they're accountable to taxpayers," he said.
States would need the approval of at least two of three governing bodies -- the governor, the Legislature and the state education agency -- before they can enter into the five-year agreement.
States must also disclose how the students are doing in an annual report to the federal government. The report must break enrollments down by the same student groups that are already required by federal law.
The bill also mandates states spend at least 90 percent of what they originally would have on schools if no agreement had been made.
HB 2514 has been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce for deliberation.