ENGLISH FOR CONGRESS POSITION PAPER (Revised April 2014)

Federal Role in Education

The Federal role in education has become very controversial, with limited success to date in the two areas where the Federal government has intervened, Special Education and No Child Left Behind.  Both have not received the promised share of Federal funding when these programs were established, a 50-50 split of Special Education costs with the states and continuing underfunding of No Child Left Behind.  Federal educational mandates on the states remain, however, and have become the subject of much controversy.  If the Federal government is going to continue to intervene in elementary and secondary education, it should fully fund the amounts promised lest it lose credibility with the states and suffer the consequences of underfunded and failed educational programs. 

With the exception made for public schools in poverty areas, I believe that the Federal role in education per se should be limited to support of higher education at the college and university level.  The National Defense Education Act that was passed in reaction to the Soviet Union's launch of the Sputnik satellite was very successful in producing science and engineering graduates during the space race.  America's graduate schools are now filled with foreign students that are supported by their home governments while our own students received little support other than college loans for their graduate studies.  It is not unusual for our college graduates to begin their careers with $50,000 or more in student loans that must be repaid at the time they are just beginning their careers and settling down to family life. The rapid rise in higher education costs has been exacerbated by diminished funding from the states of their university systems because runaway state expenditures for Medicaid and prisons have crowded out increases in state funding for colleges and universities.. Specific Federal higher education support programs such as generous scholarships and other financial aid for students studying to be teachers and nurses in underprivileged and under served areas would be an appropriate Federal effort to meet the critical educational and healthcare deficiencies in these locales. 

The Federal role in elementary and secondary education should concentrate upon the remedying the dysfunctional economic and social environments that impede the educational development and progress of at risk students in school districts with high poverty and high crime environments.  Schools are educational institutions:  they are not well-suited to be individual therapy or community renewal institutions.  Schools can assist their communities with Federally-funded student breakfast, lunch, before and after school programs, and community health clinics, but they are not social welfare institutions.   Blaming public schools for not solving the social and economic problems of their students is a thinly disguised despicable attempt to divert attention from the failure of the Federal government to address the continuing poverty and the consequent social mayhem present in poorer school districts.  Targeted comprehensive Federal assistance to address underlying social and economic problems in these school districts should be the focus of Federal educational support, not meddling with the curriculum, student achievement, and qualifications of teachers, which are state government responsibility.  

One of the ways Federal support could make a major beneficial impact would be the funding of public boarding schools for highly at-risk children living in harmful or dysfunction environments.  A former Governor of Minnesota, Rudy Perpich, proposed that boarding schools be funded in his state to give children living in the worst at-risk home situations the opportunity to succeed in a supportive learning environment.  He benefited from a scholarship to a boarding school given to him that enabled him to escape an at-risk childhood.  However, there can be no excuse for the Federal government's continued refusal to accept its responsibility for the mismanagement of the economy that has resulted in the loss of millions of jobs that employed lower income citizens. It must fund massive urban redevelopment jobs programs to rebuild and restore restore our devastated communities. Hopefully, the improved neighborhoods and job opportunities will strengthen family structures to create stable and conducive learning environments for students in residing those underprivileged communities.

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