Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What Are The Odds?

Imagine my surprise to our Representative Scott Garrett teaming with Representative Pete Hoekstra for an op-ed on No Child Left Behind.

Hoekstra was my Rep when I lived in Michigan and was the last Republican campaign I worked on, through the Ottawa County organization, oh so many years ago. Hoekstra represents a very conservative District, and as I explained back in February, he is as beloved in his District as Marge Roukema was in ours (he won in '06 by roughly 100,000 votes, compared to Garrett's 22,000). It's a small world.

Without having the time to discect their Op-Ed on NCLB, and compare it to the proposals out there to determine what's spin and what's not, the piece does provide a perfect contrast between a real conservative plan and Garrett's slash and burn philosophy.

As I pointed out earlier, Garrett has sought to prey upon people's feelings on NCLB (from disdain to hatred) to defund the Department of Education. Garrett's plan gives everyone a tax-credit to offset whatever taxes must be raised by their states to offset a loss of education dollars if their states opt out of NCLB. Garrett's plan ignores the role corporate taxes play in education funding, removes all consideration for disadvantaged districts, and would likely gut funding from poorer states without a means to offset the loss of funding. Garrett's plan has absolutely no benchmarks for states and schools to shoot for or to be held accountable to.

Hoekstra's A-Plus Act, on the other hand, allows states to opt out of NCLB in a traditional conservative proposal. It allows states to receive their education funds in block grants, securing more local control, while holding them accountable to reaching the standards set forth for the programs the block grant is related to. Hoekstra's bill also maintains requirements to fund disadvantaged districts and comply with civil rights laws. Hoekstra's bill is not without it's problems; gutting administrative cost to administer the programs funded (1% is a bit unreasonable) and apparently it starts grant levels at what states spent as opposed to what they needed.

Negatives aside, Hoekstra's bill provides the funding, recognizes the need to provide for those in need, but leaves states in control of how to do it. Neither of the bills are supported by the National Education Association, and I doubt either will make it to the floor. While there is no shot of any part of Garrett's bill appearing in the NCLB legislation, my hope is that block grants will appear in some form in the new NCLB legislation somewhere.

I do prefer a block grant approach to funding for two reasons: They allow states to decide how to use their money to meet their needs, and; they limit earmarking because the nature of the grant does not allow members of Congress to deduct funds from a competitive grant pool.

Successful block grant programs like SCHIP and HUD's Community Development Block Grants do point to the successes of federal programs giving states control. If it can work for health care and housing, it's worth considering for education.

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