Gateway supporters standup to Guilford school board (copy)

Supporters of Gateway Education Center gather at a Guilford County School Board budget meeting in April to register their concerns over the potential closing of the school because of the building’s condition.

School is out. While the classrooms might have emptied, teachers have not stopped working, many already beginning preparations for the next school year. Our Guilford County teachers and administrators have a tough job. That job is made harder by mandates from Washington that stymie opportunities for student growth and limit how they can serve the needs of their schools.

When Washington sends money to Guilford County to improve schools and educational outcomes, it shouldn’t be able to place lock-tight restrictions on how our administrators can use those funds. After all, leaders in our community know best the needs of the students and schools they serve, not bureaucrats behind desks in D.C.

This is the idea behind the A-PLUS Act, legislation that I introduced this month. This bill would empower parents, teachers and local administrators to better address the needs of students and schools in their communities.

The A-PLUS Act gives local school systems the option to decline participation in the prescriptive and onerous requirements of federal education programs and focus that funding on solutions that meet their community needs. All without cutting a dollar of their federal funding.

Simply put, this legislation would allow Guilford County Schools to spend federal dollars on rebuilding, repairs, teacher pay, or supplies, rather than compliance burdens.

Earlier this year, Dr. Sharon L. Contreras, superintendent of Guilford County Schools, spoke in a House Committee on Education and Labor hearing — a committee on which I sit. She detailed the numerous trials facing the district, including outdated facilities, Band-Aid fixes to long-term problems and the desperate need for more funding.

She shared a recent study that said more than $1.5 billion was needed in capital investment to renovate and upgrade current facilities and build new schools. According to the study, 45% of the schools were rated as in unsatisfactory or poor condition.

Contreras told our committee that the schools’ maintenance staff responds to more than 30,000 work orders annually, and that many schools suffer from flooding and routinely use buckets and trash cans to catch water during heavy rains.

This is unacceptable. Every level of government has a responsibility to fix this problem.

I know my friend, Dr. Contreras, and her team give and do the best that they can, but the truth is they need more resources to fulfill the needs specific to the community and to ensure that each student has everything he or she needs to succeed.

Some have proposed property tax increases of more than 10% to give the school system a boost. However, I believe there is a better way, without raising taxes on Guilford County residents.

Our legislation would allow Guilford County Schools to consolidate funding for any or all programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This year, North Carolina received more than $641 billion in ESEA funds.

Every dollar spent on compliance or earmarked for a specific project is a dollar not going to where our community needs those resources the most.

The Office of Management and Budget found that No Child Left Behind increased state and local governments’ compliance burden to the tune of more than 6.6 million lost hours and $141 million.

The federal government should allow Guilford County to use provided funds to upgrade their facilities to ensure students are learning in an environment that will best prepare them for the future.

Parents and teachers shouldn’t have to worry whether their facilities are safe. They, not federal employees in Washington, know what is best for the children of our community. By giving Dr. Contreras, Guilford County Schools and school systems across the country more flexibility in how they spend federal dollars, we can improve student outcomes and ensure decisions about the classroom are being made locally.

That is what I aim to do with the A-PLUS Act.

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Mark Walker is a member of Congress from Greensboro who represents the 6th District.

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