A-PLUS Act: A Conservative Approach to No Child Left Behind

Rachel Sheffield /

Educating students is no easy task, so the last thing schools need is Washington bureaucrats telling them what to do. Unfortunately, federal red tape has increased with every passing decade since the enactment of the first Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965 (today known as No Child Left Behind).

That’s why Senators Jim DeMint (R–SC) and John Cornyn (R–TX) introduced the A–PLUS Act: a conservative approach to No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This new legislation, introduced April 14, would allow states to opt out of the notorious compliance burden inherent in NCLB and give them greater freedom to decide how their education dollars are spent to meet their students’ needs.

Instead of creating additional federal education programs (today there are more than 150 operated by the federal government) with their additional regulatory burdens and associated costs, A–PLUS allows states to opt out of ineffective and costly programs and set a course that they deem best for the specific education challenges they face.

In recent years and even in the last few weeks, states across the nation have proved that when it comes to innovative reforms, they—not federal bureaucrats—know best. Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Oklahoma, and New Jersey, among others, have set in place reforms to promote practices such as private school choice, increased school accountability to parents rather than bureaucrats, and merit pay to reward teachers for their efforts. Yet, regardless of state successes, NCLB superimposes its own top-down federal reform philosophy.

For example, Oklahoma Superintendent Janet Barresi noted at a recent hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce that NCLB distracts from state reform priorities. She stated:

“…the U.S. Department of Education has issued guidelines that on the surface seem to offer states more flexibility to meet local needs. But there seems to be a disconnect between good intentions at the top level and what actually occurs in practice.”

And beyond limited flexibility, “what actually occurs in practice” also means hefty time and money constraints. The Heritage Foundation’s Jennifer Marshall, testifying at a hearing last month, reported that NCLB cost states an additional seven million hours in paperwork at a cost of $141 million, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

Approaches that limit schools’ ability to innovate, while taking resources of time and money away from students, don’t help improve education. Thus, it’s little wonder that academic achievement in the U.S. has basically flatlined since the 1970s, despite the ever-growing number of federal programs.

Fortunately, instead of continuing down the path of greater federal control, conservative policies like A–PLUS allows state and local leaders to decide what works best for children. It gives power to those closest to the students to make reforms based on those students’ needs, while lightening the load of compliance burdens on schools. Additionally, it allows states to opt out of ineffective programs.

With greater flexibility, more states will have the freedom to implement innovative educational approaches, just like those taking root in several pioneering states. Most importantly, it means that more children will have greater opportunity for academic success and promising futures.