NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Effects of Federal Intervention in Education

March 17, 2011

Major federal intervention into local schools began with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA).  Since then, a half-century of continually expanding, ever-shifting federal intervention into local schools has failed to improve American academic achievement, says Jennifer A. Marshall, director of domestic policy at the Heritage Foundation.

But it has caused an enormous compliance burden, dissipating dollars and human capital that could have been more effectively directed to achieve educational excellence.  The damage should be calculated not only in terms of decades of wasted fiscal and human resources and on-going opportunity costs.  We must also take stock of how federal intervention has created a dysfunctional governance system that undermines direct accountability to parents and taxpayers, while at the same time encouraging bureaucratic expansion and empowering special interests.

Specifically, we should count the following costs of compliance with federal policy:

  • The proliferation of federal programs and increased federal prescription to leverage "systemic reform" have created a confusing policy maze that only a limited set of experts can navigate.
  • The growth of state bureaucracies to administer and comply with federal programs has given rise to a "client mentality" that undermines effective educational governance and accountability that ought to be directed toward parents and other taxpayers.
  • The administrative set-asides and red tape associated with federal programs diminishes education dollars as they pass through multiple layers of bureaucracy.

Source: Jennifer A. Marshall, "Effects of the Federal Role and Intervention in Education," Heritage Foundation, March 15, 2011.

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