Elementary and Secondary Education:

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

T-HEHS-00-51: Published: Jan 25, 2000. Publicly Released: Jan 25, 2000.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed its report on how federal requirements affect local school districts, focusing on: (1) the major federal requirements that affect school districts; (2) the issues school districts face in implementing these requirements; and (3) recent initiatives by Congress and the Department of Education to provide flexibility to school districts.

GAO noted that: (1) school districts are subject to a large number and a wide variety of federal requirements that reflect a variety of purposes and goals--such as ensuring students' health and safety, helping students that have particular disadvantages, and improving educational quality in key subject areas; (2) the majority of programs and legislative mandates GAO identified carried some federal dollars; (3) this federal funding is often distributed to school districts through the states, which frequently place additional requirements on districts' administration of federal programs; (4) both federal and state requirements can create implementation issues that affect how school districts plan, fund, and operate their educational programs; (5) obtaining sufficient information about federal requirements can be a challenging task for district administrators, making some districts reluctant to change long-established practices in favor of new educational initiatives; (6) district officials expressed concern about the limited federal financial support in meeting federal requirements, despite their general agreement with the underlying goals; (7) school district officials also told GAO that certain federal requirements create logistical and management challenges in operating their educational programs; (8) the multiplicity and complexity of these implementation issues make them difficult to address, especially because it is frequently those requirements that are often viewed as very beneficial that give rise to many implementation concerns; (9) district staff reported receiving little assistance from recent federal initiatives that have attempted to provide more flexibility; (10) similarly, Congress passed legislation that allows districts to shift a portion of their funds across certain federal programs; (11) however, many states do not allow districts to use this provision, and the amount of funding that can be covered is generally very small; (12) as currently structured, federal flexibility mechanisms are not well-positioned to address the concerns identified by the districts GAO interviewed; and (13) any new initiatives would also have to balance the interests of school districts and the larger purposes reflected in many pieces of federal legislation.

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