Education policy should be made by local officials

Published 4:55 pm Tuesday, August 19, 2014

By U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne

It’s that time of the year again. Children all across southwest Alabama are packing their backpacks, gathering their school supplies, and heading back to school. It is an exciting time for students, parents, teachers, and myself.

Education is an issue that is personal to me. As a parent and former member of the Alabama State Board of Education, I have seen firsthand the great teachers and administrators we have in our area, and I have continued to stay engaged on education issues while in Congress. I am the only Member of Congress from Alabama serving on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which has direct oversight over the federal Department of Education.

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Last week, I called a meeting with school superintendents from Alabama’s 1st Congressional District. We had representatives from Washington, Clarke, Escambia, Baldwin, and Mobile counties, in addition to superintendents from the Saraland, Chickasaw, and Satsuma city school systems.  The purpose of the meeting was simple: to share ideas and concerns about the federal government’s role in education.

Throughout the meeting, it became clear that most of our local school leaders worry about the federal government’s heavy hand interfering with education policy. Whether through time-consuming red tape or burdensome federal mandates, teachers are being forced to spend time complying with federal regulations instead of actually doing their job.

I firmly believe that education decisions are best left to the parents, teachers, and administrators who know our children best, not some federal bureaucrat sitting behind a desk in Washington, D.C.

There has been a lot of debate and talk recently about federal education standards, and the debate has brought out strong opinions on all sides of the issue. I want our children to have the highest standards possible, and I am certainly pleased with the progress Alabama students have made over the last few years.

That said, I don’t believe the federal government should be using federal grants and funding to coerce a state into adopting certain academic standards. The education policy that works best in Oregon may not be the same standards that are important to our students in Alabama. As our region and state continues to gain more manufacturing jobs, it will be important that more focus is placed on skills training and technical education. So why should the federal Department of Education be able to hold our state back?

In Congress, I am pushing for policies that return decision-making authority back to the state and local entities. We should empower teachers, administrators, and parents on the front lines to make decisions that fit the needs of each individual child while focusing on lasting reforms that reduce duplicative and ineffective programs.

I have signed on as a co-sponsor of H.R. 1386, the Local School Board Governance and Flexibility Act. The bill expresses the sense of Congress that states and local education agencies are responsible for education policy and that the Secretary of Education should not issue federal rules, regulations, grant conditions, etc. that conflict with state authority or result in additional costs.

I look forward to continuing to work with Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and all my colleagues in the House to return authority over education policy back to the states, where it belongs.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is the representative for the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.