School funding ‘flex’ vexes lawmakers

Under the proposal, school districts would need to notify state officials how they plan to use federal funds, but they wouldn't need approval.

As Congress weighs several bills designed to overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act, lawmakers are at odds over a proposal to revamp how federal education dollars are spent—including money intended to help underprivileged students.

The State and Local Funding Flexibility Act (H.R. 2445), introduced by House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., and supported by Republicans, would give states and school districts the authority to spend federal dollars intended for certain programs on a wide range of other activities authorized under NCLB.

Critics of the bill, including many Democrats, worry the proposal could hurt low-income and minority students, because it means federal Title I money could be diverted for uses that don’t target these populations of students it is intended for.

The debate has important implications for how much money schools have available for programs such as educational technology or after-school services—and it’s also representative of the larger divide between the two parties in Congress, as they clash over the appropriate role of the federal government in setting policy and ensuring fairness for all members of society.

“Superintendents and principals from across the nation repeatedly tell me they need more freedom to decide how federal education dollars should be used to support students,” said Kline in a statement. “Washington bureaucrats cannot dictate how money is best spent in the classroom—those decisions should be left to the teachers, school administrators, superintendents, principals, and state leaders who have an integral knowledge of the needs of our kids.”

He continued: “The State and Local Funding Flexibility Act will help get the federal government out of the way of student achievement and encourage more innovative education reforms on the local level.”

Kline’s bill takes inspiration from the Rural Education Achievement Program, which is currently authorized under Title VI of NCLB and is called the REAP Flex. The program, widely used by rural school districts, directs federal resources to meet the needs of students.

According to Kline, the bill will build upon the success of this program by applying it to all states and school districts and expanding the program to include NCLB formula funds (except the Impact Aid program) and the EduJobs Fund, allowing states and districts to use those funds on state and local activities authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

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