Accountability in Education
Ensuring that our kids are prepared for college, a career, and real life is something that families as well as policy leaders view as a top priority. The process starts with a quality education and great schools. Our teachers truly do yeoman’s work and we value their contribution in expanding the minds of our children and making our communities, states, and country a better place.
However, our teachers, administrators, and students are regularly forced to spend significant time and energy making sure that they have checked all the many and often irrelevant boxes required by government.
Most of the complaints that I hear from school boards and administrators are about the massive amounts of paperwork and hoops that must be jumped through to do almost anything in our schools. How many forms do teachers submit to state or federal government entities that never get reviewed? What we really need is accountability to families and students. Education is a highly regulated area, which can be good, but too often it hinders our educators from focusing on their main job: providing our kids with a world-class education.
Some want to shut down the Federal Department of Education entirely. Is that the right answer? While I am not sure about that, the President and Congress should absolutely work to devolve more responsibility and authority to the states and localities. Not only would this save taxpayer money, it would also put more decision-making power in the hands of locally-elected school boards, parents, and communities. These folks know what works and what doesn’t in their area better than a central government thousands of miles away.
In Iowa, we have led the way in providing our schools with more flexibility and local control over many decisions.
Over the past three years, we have passed several funding flexibility bills that allow schools to spend their resources in ways that make sense in their districts. Previously, schools were restricted in the way they could use certain dollars because of strings that were attached to funding provided by the state. This led to an issue where some schools had money trapped in accounts that couldn’t be utilized any further, while they were struggling to meet the needs of their students in a different area. We have loosened many of these strings and now schools can focus those dollars on students and local issues.
Another important step we have taken is giving schools Home Rule authority. This was something that Iowa cities and counties already enjoyed, so it made sense to allow all Iowa schools the same authority.
This would provide locally-elected school boards across Iowa the opportunity to run their schools in a way that better meets the needs of their students, teachers, and communities. Previously, Iowa’s schools were governed under the Dillon Rule, which only provided them with powers expressly granted by the state. Home Rule allows schools to exercise flexibility in areas not addressed in state law.
School boards are accountable to voters. When state and federal law create unnecessary red tape, it allows those boards to pass the buck for failing schools. No one is accountable when you enter that circle of blame. Allowing schools to make more local decisions gives them responsibility and makes them accountable.
I sincerely hope that providing states and school boards with more control over local decisions is something that our leaders in Washington will consider. Washington could take a page out of Iowa’s playbook and look at what we are doing to delegate more authority to the local level. It is important that decisions are made as close as possible to the people that will be affected.