Elementary and Secondary Education:

Flexibility Initiatives Do Not Address Districts' Key Concerns About Federal Requirements

HEHS-98-232: Published: Sep 30, 1998. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 1998.

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Carlotta C. Joyner
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the: (1) major federal requirements that affect school districts; (2) issues that school districts face in implementing these requirements; and (3) impact of the Department of Education's flexibility initiatives on school districts' ability to address these implementation issues.

GAO noted that: (1) the wide range of federal requirements that affect school districts reflects many different policy goals and program objectives; (2) many of these federal requirements--especially those that most directly affect teaching--come with federal dollars, but others do not; (3) federal laws and regulations affect school districts in all their varied activities; (4) federal requirements are augmented by state and local requirements and court decisions; (5) district officials generally expressed support for federal programs and mandates, recognizing the importance of goals such as ensuring school safety and promoting equal educational opportunity; (6) at the same time they noted their concerns with implementation issues that made achieving these goals more difficult; (7) rather than focusing on a single federal program or requirement, these implementation issues extend across several broad areas, including the: (a) difficulty in obtaining accurate, timely, and sufficiently detailed information about federal requirements and federal funding; (b) limited funds available to meet program and administrative costs; and (c) logistical and management challenges presented by certain requirements; (8) in the past 5 years, several initiatives have been designed and implemented to provide more flexibility to school districts; (9) however, some of these initiatives have not been widely used by the districts; (10) in addition, because they are narrowly structured, these flexibility initiatives generally do not address school districts' major concerns; (11) although information-related issues are very important to school district officials, the recent flexibility initiatives increase the amount of information districts need, rather than simplifying or streamlining information on federal requirements; (12) federal flexibility efforts neither reduce districts' financial obligations nor provide additional federal dollars; (13) because the flexibility initiatives are limited to specific programs, their ability to reduce administrative effort and streamline procedures is also limited; and (14) broadening the scope of federal flexibility efforts, however, raises concerns about whether the underlying goals of federal programs can be achieved without the guidance of specific regulatory provisions.

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