Public Education Must Remain Top Focus


Date: March 9, 2017

Much has been made recently about the new Secretary of Education, Besty DeVos, and the future of our nation's education system. As a lifelong education reform advocate, I welcome the focus on education and the conversation about ways to improve educational opportunities for our students.

Education reform has been a key component of my career in public service. I served on the Alabama State School Board for eight years and later served as chancellor of Alabama's two-year college system. In Congress, I am the only member from Alabama on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

In each of these roles, I have had opportunities to visit with the teachers, support staff, and administrators that keep our schools running. I always leave these visits with a greater appreciation for the work our teachers do and the challenges they face day in and day out.

As such, I have concerns with the perception that the focus on education in America is moving away from public schools. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of students in Alabama and across the United States are in public schools. That fact is very unlikely to change.

To be clear, I support school choice efforts and remain open to finding ways to give students greater opportunities to escape failing schools. That said, we cannot lose sight of the most important responsibility when it comes to education in America: supporting public education.

My top priority when it comes to public education is to get the federal government out of the way so our teachers, administrators, and school board members can do their jobs. The heavy hand of the federal government only seems to complicate matters and takes the focus away from educating students.

For example, only about 10 percent of the funding for K-12 education is from the federal government. Yet, the Government Accountability Office found that 41 percent of the paperwork comes from the federal level. These numbers highlight the fact that Washington does more harm than good when it comes to education.

Time spent filling out paperwork and complying with federal mandates is time a teacher cannot spend working with at-risk students or planning future lessons. Sadly, many times a large chunk of the federal money is also caught up in bureaucracy and never even reaches the classroom.

In December of 2015, Congress passed, and the President signed, the Every Student Succeeds Act. This bill replaced No Child Left Behind and paved the way toward greater state and local control over education. The Wall Street Journal called this bill "the largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter-century."

The Every Student Succeeds Act is an example of how Washington should work. After numerous hearings and debates, we arrived at a truly bipartisan bill that brought Republicans and Democrats together around a bill designed to get Washington bureaucrats out of our classrooms.

The focus now turns to the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Congress must work closely with the Department of Education to ensure the law is working and the burden is being lifted off our local public schools. Teachers deserve and need the flexibility to innovate and try new methods instead of being stuck in the failed, Washington-knows-best system.

So, as the public debate over school choice and charter schools continues, I want to ensure you that my top focus remains on improving public education in our country.

Ultimately, a strong, vibrant public education system is vital to our economic success and the health of our democracy.