Cut This, Not That

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In their latest report on the ESEA, “Cut and Run,” Jeremy Ayers and Raegen Miller of the Center for American Progress take on Representative John Kline’s (R-Minn.) ESEA “Discussion Draft,” the Student Success Act. The title of the report is a tip-off that Ayers and Miller are not enamored with the draft. They raise plenty of legitimate concerns, but the one that catches my interest is their beef with the proposed elimination of the current maintenance of effort (MOE) provision.

-- Check out the cross-post with our good friends at Title I-derland --

The discussion draft does away with the provision with little explanation. Frankly, little explanation is needed because the reason is obvious: the wretched economy. Many districts would rather not have to maintain 90 percent of prior year non-federal funding in order to be eligible for Title I. They are managing deficits, and this Washington requirement only makes management more difficult.

Those that support the repeal (I’m looking at you, Petrilli) argue that this would allow states and districts to be more efficient, to spend less to get equal or better services. Ayers and Miller don’t buy that, arguing that the existing 10 percent annual leeway is plenty. The harm, they argue, would be significant:  It is “a recipe for converting federal funds into state and local tax relief, or for converting funds meant for education into support of other government services.”  MOE is an important verification tool to protect federal funds from being used for state and local purposes. I agree with Ayers and Miller on this one. The 10 percent is probably enough flexibility (anyone have data to show otherwise?)

My concern is that the discussion draft would repeal the wrong fiscal requirement. The law, after all, still requires protection of the federal funds from being used to replace state and local dollars. The prime tool to do this, if the law repealed MOE, would be the supplement, not supplant requirements. Instead of having a district-level check on the allocation of non-federal funds, we would rely (even more than we do now) on a fact-specific, school-to-school, program-to-program analysis that will turn the whole process into a Keystone Cop affair. If we do this, the auditors win! The attorneys win!  Who wants that?!

As I’ve argued before (here and here), it would be better to repeal supplement, not supplant and keep MOE. This would be so much simpler. MOE would work to protect the federal funds (heck, change the 10 percent to 15 percent) and the repeal would eliminate the supplanting madness, focusing our work on improving the academic program of the school. Let’s make this simpler, not more technical.

What do you say, Representative Kline? Worth a go?

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