US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Alexander Tells Nation’s Governors: “We Need to Stop Washington’s National School Board”

Spoke today at National Governors Association Summer Meeting in Nashville

Friday, July 11, 2014

“We need to stop Washington from making it harder for governors to improve their public schools, raise standards, and recruit and keep good teachers.” –Lamar Alexander

 

Washington, D.C., July 11 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the senior Republican on the Senate education committee and former Tennessee governor, today called on the nation’s governors to support legislation that would “end the trend toward a national school board and stop Washington from making it harder for governors to improve their public schools, raise standards, and recruit and keep good teachers.”

“This Administration has used the combination of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and waivers from No Child Left Behind to, in effect, turn itself into a National School Board, making decisions that states and local communities ought to make for themselves,” he said.

Alexander, who was invited to speak at the National Governors Association summer meeting in Nashville, urged the governors to support his legislation, which was supported by every Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, to fix No Child Left Behind and “free states to help meet the needs of 50 million children in 100,000 schools.”

 

He said the administration’s use of its waiver authority “to impose on states new requirements not contemplated in - and, in fact, prohibited by - federal law is the most troubling development.”

The result of the requirements imposed on states “is waiver applications more than 1,000 pages long, dealing with decisions that are precisely the core responsibilities of Governors, state legislatures, and local school boards, which is why I have suggested that the Department of Education has assumed the role of national school board,” he said, adding that the “the Administration’s overreach is creating a backlash from both conservatives and liberal groups, undermining the high standards, quality tests, teacher evaluations, and other reforms that most of us want.”

Alexander spoke at a roundtable session on the role of education in economic development.

The event came two days after the House of Representatives passed and sent to the president’s desk for his signature the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act – a bill to reauthorize and fix the Workforce Investment Act, which is the largest source of federal funding for job training programs in each state.

“We’ve changed the Workforce Investment Act to make it a more effective tool for training people to have the job skills to get jobs,” Alexander told the governors.

 

Alexander, who was a coauthor of the bill, noted that the votes were overwhelming: The vote was overwhelming: 415 to 6 in the House and 95 to 3 in the Senate.

The bill authorizes $9.5 billion in federal funding to help individuals develop the skills necessary to support themselves and satisfy the needs of local businesses.

In Tennessee, the bill will provide more than $145 million in funding that goes to 13 local workforce boards that operate about 75 one-stop job centers across the state.

“Our former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen said to me that when he first became governor and went to find out about that $145 million, he just threw up his hands.  He said: It is too complicated.  I cannot do anything with it.  So he told his cabinet members: Do the best you can,” Alexander said.

“Governor Haslam says that his top priority is trying to grow and attract jobs.  What he hears from every employer is, ‘We have the jobs, but the employees don't have the skills,’” he added.

Alexander detailed what the new law will do to make the workforce investment dollars “a more effective tool for governors.”

  • Today, there are 44 duplicative federal employment and training programs, according to the Government Accountability Office.
    • This bill eliminates 15 programs to help simplify this maze.

 

  • Today, Washington says who needs to be on the local workforce boards, with complicated mandates that made these boards too large to be effective.
    • This bill eliminates 21 federal mandates on workforce board composition, cutting in half the mandated size of state and local workforce boards. (Cutting state workforce boards from 61 to 33, and local workforce boards from 51 to 19.)

 

  • There are three large formula funds that represent a third of the money that states get. Today, the ability of Governors to reserve funds from those programs has dropped from a high of 15 percent in 1998, to 8.75 percent right now.  It was 5 percent in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
    • This bill gives back to governors the ability to reserve up to 15 percent, or some $400 million nationally, of those formula programs in order to implement their own innovative state and local programs. 

 

  • Today, there is very little flexibility for local workforce boards to shift funds and services between those three formula programs—which serve adults, dislocated workers, and youth—to serve the people who are actually coming through the doors for help. 
    • Under this bill, local workforce boards will have the flexibility to transfer up to 100 percent of funds between the two largest formula programs serving adults and dislocated workers to meet the needs of their unique area.

  

  • Today, a state has to submit separate plans for all of the various programs it runs under this law. So a single state might have to submit half a dozen plans to the federal government for approval—one for the workforce system, one for adult education, one for disability services, and so forth. 
    • This bill takes those half dozen state plans and replaces them with a single streamlined state plan that will greatly reduce time spent on paperwork.
  • Today, a state has different reporting requirements for each of those various programs, most of which bear little relationship to the outcomes of the individuals they serve.
    • This bill eliminates less effective reporting requirements, such as the number of individuals entering the building, and establishes six simple accountability measures that are used across all programs and focus on real outcomes, such as job placement, retention, earnings, credentials, and employer satisfaction.
  • Today, a Governor is limited in his or her ability to hold workforce areas accountable. 
    • This bill allows Governors to hold local workforce boards accountable. If you think a board isn’t doing its job, you can withhold funds and reorganize or consolidate local areas that are low-performing in order to better meet regional economic needs.
  • Today, under the law, every individual who goes to the one-stop job center has to get the same "sequence of services"—that is they have to each get the same services in the exact same order—from job search assistance to interview skills.
    • This bill eliminates that cumbersome mandate, so that any individual who visits a one-stop job center can select the services they actually need. 
    • So if you don’t need help on writing your resume, you don’t need to sit in a resume-writing class.

 

# # #

More Press from the Ranking Member