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The Policy Expert

Monday, January 12, 2009 11:01 AM

Chicago public schools chief Arne Duncan goes before a Senate committee on Tuesday for a confirmation hearing. To help him set priorities, Post reporter Valerie Strauss asked folks in the education world to provide their best advice on key issues. Here is a response from Dan Lips, Senior Policy Analyst, Heritage Foundation, Washington D.C.

President-elect Obama campaigned on themes of change and reform. But will he walk the walk when it comes to education? For more than forty years, increasing federal spending and authority has failed to significantly improve American students' academic achievement. The new administration and Secretary-designate Arne Duncan should learn from this experience and follow a new path: transforming the federal government's role and encouraging greater reform at the state and local level.

The new administration will soon signal which direction it is headed by how it responds to increasing calls for a federal "bailout" for state governments facing budget shortfalls. A group of leading Democratic governors recently called on the federal government to provide a $250 billion "rescue package" for public education. Putting aside the question of whether increased government funding improves school performance, does it really make sense for states to be passing the buck to federal taxpayers, especially considering the ballooning federal deficit?

A fiscally responsible alternative to a federal bailout would be to call on Congress to grant states greater flexibility and authority over how current federal education dollars are used. This could relieve states of the significant expense associated with complying with federal regulations and allow state leaders to steer federal dollars toward the most pressing needs. It would also show that the Obama administration is serious about change and recognizes that state leaders are in a better position to make decisions about improving education.

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