Monday, December 12, 2016

An A-Plus Method of Liberating Money

The Very Conservative Heritage Foundation has posted on Facebook a video with their six suggestions for the first 100 days of Betsy DeVos's attempt to drive the Department of Education into the privatization ditch (they might have phrased it a little differently).

  1. Support states as they work to exit Common Core.
  2. Call on Congress to pass the A-Plus Act returning power to the states.
  3. Reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship
  4. Cancel the Department of Education guidance on transgender bathrooms.
  5. Rescind the Obama Administration’s heavy-handed education regulations.
  6. Create Education Savings Accounts for children at Bureau of Indian Education schools.
Some of these are old familiar friends, like getting rid of Common Core (or at least that name for one-size-fits-all bone-headed unproven amateur-created standards), policing student peeing, or maintaining the DC school choice program. There's even the slightly creative idea of using Native American students as lab rats for one more foot-in-the-door voucher program.

But #2 may seem unfamiliar, or like a ghost from the past. It may seem an especially odd thing for anyone to suggest DeVos get behind, because for most of its long, sad life, the A-Plus Act has been pitched as an alternative to No Child Left Behind (in fact, it stands for Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success Act, not to be confused with other A-Plus acts, because naming legislation is hard). But there are reasons it remains appealing to folks like the Heritage crowd.

That lamprey is mighty uncomfortable
It has been a Heritage Foundation favorite, and they have an expansive history of the act and how it fits in the long storied history of federal government Power Grabbing. The big selling point of the A-Plus Act was the freedom to opt out of No Child Left Behind (at the time, nobody realized that the term "opt out" would be policy garlic to some undead policies). But while "opt out of NCLB" was on the marquee, inside the lobby, more wonky and powerful features were being pitched.

A-Plus was supposed to make decision-making more local, by letting state government decide how to use federal funds and which programs to continue and which to ax. Basically, the act was meant to turn all federal ed support funds into a big stringless bale of money that states could dispose of in whatever manner suited them. This was a gift of money so loose, opaque, and accountability-free that even some reformsters thought it was a bridge too far. Fans pushed back, but the act still languished.

Still, the act shambles on. It was pitched in 2007 at the very moment that Congress was beginning the long re-authorization slog. Then again in 2011. And last year some Congressmen were still trying to attach A-Plus to the ESSA, like a lamprey latched onto the butt of a giant elephant seal.

The purpose of the A-Plus Act has always been pretty clear. It is hard to hoover up all those federal public tax dollars for education when they come attached with all these rules and regulations like "you have to spend this money on helping poor kids read" or "you have to show that you spent that money on actual education stuff." This goes well beyond even the accountability mavens of ed reform-- when your big criticism of public ed is that it's neither transparent nor accountable enough, a program that says "Just throw money at the states and trust that it will land somewhere useful" can't seem like much of an improvement.

The Heritage Foundation smells opportunity. They were excited about welcoming DeVos to USED, and they released a similar action list for her (so she could become a "transformative leader") a few weeks ago. That time they skipped A-Plus and instead proposed the old backpacks full of cash that follow the kids around.

The principle remains the same. Banks are really infringing on our freedom by putting their money in vaults and guarding it; to really let freedom ring, the money should just be set out on the sidewalk. Restaurants limit our freedom by not letting us walk into the kitchen and take whatever food we're hungry for. And governments hogtie our freedom by insisting on all sorts of rules and regulations and proof that the money taxpayers handed over is being used for the purpose for which it was taken. Now is the time to bring back true freedom, because after all, America is only great when a man can reach out and grab whatever he wants without anyone telling him no. That kind of country is not just great-- it is A-Plus!!

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