Congresswoman Kristi Noem’s Weekly Column: Back to School

Back to School
By Rep. Kristi Noem

Can you believe the kids are back in school? Kassidy and Kennedy are in Brookings now – Kassidy for work and Kennedy to wrap up her last year at SDSU. I can’t figure out how time flew by so fast! At least we still have Booker at home for a few more years. He started his sophomore year this fall and already has a few football games under his belt (Go Chargers!)

With one in high school, one in college, and another just getting into their career, I have a front-row ticket to the continuum of our education system. From this perspective, one thing is abundantly clear: states, individual school districts, and parents should have more control over what happens in schools than the federal government.

The Obama administration had pushed to federally regulate everything from what was taught in the classroom to what was served in the lunchroom. Whether it was a student in inner-city L.A. or Booker in Hamlin County, South Dakota, they wanted every student to learn the same thing, eat the same thing, do the same thing. I wholeheartedly disagree with that approach.

Last Congress, I helped get the Every Student Succeeds Act signed into law. At its core, the legislation stops federal micromanagement. It gives states greater flexibility to spend money in a way that benefits their students most. It empowers parents to hold schools accountable and modernizes the Impact Aid program, which many South Dakota schools rely on.  Maybe most notably, the new law ensures the federal government can’t pressure states into adopting specific academic standards, like Common Core.

Now, I’m working to do the same thing for school lunch. The Obama administration created a failing one-size-fits-all meal program that severely restricted meats, grains, sodium, and more without a good scientific basis for doing so. The sodium restrictions, for instance, were so limiting that many schools would have a difficult time serving milk or cheese because of the naturally occurring sodium in those products. Unbelievable!

I’ve introduced legislation to retain the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research and recommendations as a resource for schools, but there would be no requirement to follow the existing mandates.

I believe in the same philosophy of local control when it comes to colleges and universities too. Earlier this year, I helped the House pass the Strengthening Career and Technical Education Act, which among other things would give states and local community leaders more flexibility in using federal education dollars. This way, states can innovate new learning experiences, better encourage apprenticeships and internships, and develop programs around the local economy’s needs. Understanding the relationship between those educating Kennedy and those hiring Kassidy is essential as we prepare all students for good-paying, in-demand South Dakota jobs.

The bottom line is that I want kids of all ages and backgrounds to be excited about their future in South Dakota. That is best accomplished by decentralizing education and giving those closest to our kids greater control.

During their first few days back, I got to speak with fourth and fifth grade students in Rapid City. These kids were so inquisitive, so eager to learn. It was clear they were surrounded by teachers and school administrators who care deeply about their success. It’s this community and involved parents that I can trust to make decisions about our kids’ education, not federal bureaucrats who are trying to put every student into a single, nationwide model

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