On Tuesday, the House Education and the Workforce Committee held a full committee hearing on the impact of the federal government’s role in education; the mandates handed down from Washington, the associated paperwork burden, and the hurdles created for teachers and schools as a result. (If that sounds like a handful, it is.)

The hearing’s $64,000 question was whether these regulations have led to improvements in academic achievement. The answer, not surprisingly, seems to be no. Congressman John Kline (R–MN), chairman of the committee, stated during the hearing:

The nation’s education system is clearly broken, despite escalating intervention by policymakers in Washington over the last 40 years. In 1994 the Government Accountability Office conducted a review of federal education regulations at the K-12 level and the burden they placed on state and local school leaders. The GAO discovered states employed 13,400 full-time individuals to implement federal education programs. At the time, the federal government imposed 41 percent of the administrative burden, yet paid just 7 percent of the total cost.

While those figures are over a decade old, the situation hasn’t improved. In fact, it’s gotten worse. … States and local school districts work 7.8 million hours each year collecting and disseminating information required under Title I of federal education law. Those hours cost more than $235 million. The burden is tremendous.

As Congress considers reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (now known as No Child Left Behind), its guiding principal should be that of restoring federalism in education: sending dollars and decision making to state and local leaders in order to reduce much of this federal regulation and bureaucracy. Proposals such as A-PLUS, which would allow states to opt out of many of the programs funded under NCLB and direct federal dollars in a way that best meets the needs of local children, would put education back on this path.

During the hearing, Edgar B. Hatrick, Superintendent of Loudon County Public Schools in Virginia, also testified on the paperwork burden levied on states and school districts to comply with federal reporting requirements. His testimony was enlightening:

When compliance with reporting requirements becomes the focus of implementation it sends a powerful message that the process is more important than the product. … I’d like to share with you an example. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) reporting requirement comes with no funding and ignores the availability of this information from State Education Agencies. The most recent OCR data collection was completed this past December and required aggregating and disaggregating more than twelve categories of data, with more than 144 fields for each of our 50 elementary schools and 263 fields of data for each of our 24 secondary schools, for a total of 13,944 data elements. And this was just for one school district out of the 13,924 school districts in America.

For LCPS, this required 532 hours of staff time at an estimated cost of $25,370, which translates into diverting 82 instructional days away from students.

Hatrick’s example is just one of many that could be found to illustrate the burden handed down from Washington and placed on states and schools.

In order to limit much of this bureaucracy, state and local leaders should be empowered to direct how their education dollars are spent. Allowing states to opt out of heavy-handed federal programs would help focus more dollars and manpower where they’re most needed: in the classroom.