GOP: Education system 'congested' with mandates

GOP: Education system 'congested' with mandates
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Saturday, June 15, 2013 - 5:05pm

A Senate committee voted this week to move forward with a Democratic-backed education plan, but Republicans argue the proposal forces the country's school systems to further rely on the federal government.

"Over the last decade, the United States Department of Education has become so congested with federal mandates that it has actually become, in effect, a national school board," Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, said Saturday in the GOP weekly address.

"If you remember the childhood game, 'Mother, May I?' then you have a pretty good sense of how the process works-states must come to Washington for approval of their plans to educate their students," he continued.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions approved a bill called "Strengthening America's Schools Act," which was filed by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The ESEA was originally passed in 1965 and requires periodic reauthorization. The current version of the law, No Child Left Behind, was passed under the George W. Bush administration and requires states to set higher standards with greater accountability through standardized testing.

Republicans, however, say the federal government is too involved in students' education and argue the task should be left to local governments.

"Republicans voted to move in a different direction," Alexander said, talking about a bill he proposed that failed to make it out of committee. Alexander said they put forward a 220-page plan that restores "responsibility to states and communities."

"It rejects federal mandates that create a national school board, and prohibits the Education Secretary from prescribing standards or accountability systems for states," he added. "It continues the requirement that states have high standards and quality tests, but doesn't prescribe those standards."

Education is also a hotly debated item on another front this summer, as Congress has until July 1 to reach a deal in order to avoid a doubling of the interest rate for undergraduates borrowing new subsidized federal student loans.

While neither party wants the rate to go up, Republicans and Democrats disagree over how to solve the problem. Republicans wants to tie the rate to economic factors and cap the interest rate at 8.5%.

"It's fairer to students and fairer to taxpayers," Alexander said.

Democrats want Congress to decide the rate, but propose no cap. They would instead include a program to limit a former student's annual expenditures on the loan to no more than 10% of discretionary income.

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