Costello Op-Ed: Education, transportation bipartisan reforms
As published in the Daily Local News
Earlier this month, Congress completed work on two significant initiatives that will improve the quality of life for families in Pennsylvania for years to come. The bills – a long-term, paid-for highway bill (The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act) and a reform of federal K-12 education programs (the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)) – were the product of a comprehensive effort to achieve a consensus on critical policy reforms. Furthermore, both received the support of nearly 80% of Members of the House – making them truly bipartisan accomplishments.
So aside from the fact that these two efforts passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support and have been signed into law by President Obama, what else do they have in common?
Both laws reduce ineffective federal bureaucracy
Each of these laws streamline the role of the federal government in transportation and education. The FAST Act consolidates at least six duplicative offices within the Department of Transportation (DOT) and ends redundant regulatory processes that slow down infrastructure project approval.
Similarly, ESSA eliminates 49 ineffective or duplicative programs within the U.S. Department of Education and explicitly stops the federal government from imposing one-size-fits-all Common Core standards on our students. Unlike its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, ESSA sets forth unprecedented restrictions in law limiting the authority of the Secretary of Education.
They return decision-making to the state and local levels
The good news for local officials, stakeholders, and families is that instead of consolidating more power in Washington, DC, both laws return power back to state and local governments – where it belongs.
The FAST Act increases funding for projects in the Commonwealth by over $700 million and expands the amount of Surface Transportation Program funding available to local governments nationwide by 5 percent over the five-year duration of the bill. Likewise, it will change Amtrak’s funding structure to keep and reinvest passenger rail dollars spent on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor along those specific lines.
Instead of the U.S. Department of Education acting as a national “School Board” with the Secretary of Education as its President, ESSA takes steps to protect the rights of states to set their own standards, oversee school accountability, and shift curriculum control to schools and rather than requiring that schools “teach to the test.” Further, I was pleased that provisions I championed, which would give school districts flexibility to use federal resources to streamline and reduce unwanted tests, were included in the final law.
They make a long-term investment in our future
Finally, these laws provide our communities with much-needed certainty and stability. The FAST Act is the first long-term surface transportation bill to be signed into law in a decade. The five-year, fully paid for authorization targets funding to restore our crumbling infrastructure, including critical bridge and road repair projects both on and off the national highway system. Provisions I authored to mitigate congestion and improve the safety of Pennsylvania roadways and grade crossings were included in the final law.
Likewise, ESSA is a long-term investment in our children’s future. This four-year bill will give our children the education tools needed to succeed and our teachers, administrators, and school districts the desired flexibility for success.
Since January, I have made it a top priority to get these bills across the finish line, and I am pleased that day has finally come.
Congressman Ryan Costello represents the 6th District