federal leverage over education

I attended a forum today on No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the major federal education law. The event took place in a U.S. House office building on Capitol Hill; it was organized by the American Youth Policy Forum.

I have long wondered how the federal government gains so much power simply by spending $30 billion/year on education from kindergarten through 12th grade. That’s only 8 percent of education spending. NCLB is extremely unpopular in some areas, so I never understood why no local jurisdictions (or even states) have turned down the federal aid. Compliance is not mandatory; a state could pull out of the NCLB regime if it were willing to forego the money. From the complaints of many education leaders, it sounds as if the dollar costs imposed by NCLB are greater than the benefits. Today I learned that while federal monies cover 8 percent of the cost of k-12 education, they fund about half of state education agencies’ costs. In other words, half of the salary positions in state departments of ed are directly dependent on federal funding. So these state agencies feel a need to comply with NCLB; and they have regulatory power over local jurisdictions. I don’t know if this is true, but the source was knowledgeable, and it makes sense.

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