Testimony of Mike Pence
Chairman Boehner, Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. Education is not only the cornerstone of President Bush’s agenda; it is the top legislative priority of most Americans. Therefore, the work you do here in this committee is especially important.
I am here today to speak on behalf of state and local control of our schools. This is not something new to me. Everywhere I appear in my district, the applause line is the same. No new federal mandates on our public schools. Our administrators, principals and teachers all spend too much time filling out forms and grant requests. As it is, most of the school districts in Indiana have a full-time employee who does nothing but fill out federal grant application materials.
Thus, the portion of H.R. 1 that most concerns me is the requirement for one national test. The National Assessment of Educational Progress is an obscure test that relatively few of the nation’s children have ever taken. This test has seldom been given annually and has taken up to 18 months to grade. And results are reported in such a manner that only trained researchers benefit from them.
In addition, the NAEP can only judge the reading proficiency of a state and then compare it to other states. It cannot show whether a particular student is reading proficiently or how his or her school compares to other schools in the area. When you ask parents what accountability means, they usually ask for useful data. They want to know their child’s school is working.
Measurable results that are useful for parents should be our goal. Accountability means education customers can use the information to put their child in a school that is working well. Simply put, we should not pour federal money into a test that does not put children first.
That said, I plan to support a bill offered by my colleague Congressman Todd Akin of Missouri. The Accountability in Testing Act of 2001 (H.R. 1163) will limit the use of Federal funds appropriated for conducting testing in elementary or secondary schools to testing that meets certain conditions. I urge the committee to give this proposal serious consideration. It would give accountability and information to parents without tying a principal’s hands.
Each line of this bill echoes the statement of our founding fathers that education is a function of local government. Unlike NAEP, testing under H.R. 1163 would be designed by the State educational agency. Unlike NAEP, this bill would test objective knowledge based on widely-agreed-upon, measurable standards. And most importantly, unlike NAEP, a federal official would not have the authority to verify a test under H.R. 1163.
In addition, I’d like to address what President Bush has referred to as the "soft bigotry of low expectations." What city better fits that description than Congress’ own backyard, Washington, D.C.? Currently, 72% of D.C.’s ten-year-olds cannot read with understanding. It is a school district that cannot get rid of poor teachers and consistently starves its few good schools of resources just to prevent them from draining talent from the rest.
Because the District of Columbia is a creature of the Congress, we have a special responsibility and opportunity to reform its schools. By implementing an experimental parental choice system, Mr. Chairman, we could allow parents here in Washington to help us answer an important question. Does allowing the parents of poor children the same opportunities as those who live in the suburbs yield similar results? In other words, if what we want is successful public schools, why not create a powerful constituency for them? In short, if parents in the District of Columbia want to send their children to good schools, they should get to do so, whether private, public or otherwise.
Therefore, I strongly support a District Choice Initiative like the one endorsed by Senator Joseph Lieberman and Congressman Dick Armey during the 105th Congress.
Mr. Chairman, I thank you again for holding this hearing today. And as H.R. 1 travels through the halls of Congress, I trust we will remember the Jeffersonian principles of limited government as they pertain to America’s schools. Thank you.