Below is an interview with Congressman Phil Roe (R-TN), who is a member of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education in the United States House of Representatives. He also serves on the full Education & the Workforce Committee. He represents the First Congressional District of Tennessee, which includes Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, Washington, Jefferson and Sevier Counties.
We really wanted to know what role the federal government can play in education in Tennessee, and we are glad that Congressman Roe agreed to an interview to answer our questions.
1. Tennessee teachers hear a lot of what’s going on at the state level in regards to education. How can the federal government help Tennessee teachers?
I think that the federal government can best serve Tennessee educators by eliminating unnecessary layers of Washington bureaucracy and returning decision-making power to state and local officials who best know the needs of their schools.
2. How should federal education policy be changed to be of most benefit to Tennessee school systems?
Again, I believe empowering educators and school administrators with flexibility and the ability to make decisions at the local level is one of the most important policy changes Congress can make. That is what the House did in H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, which I worked on in my capacity as a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The Senate, unfortunately, has not acted on this important bill.
3. Do you support the President’s early childhood education initiative?
Our children deserve a quality education. Research has shown that if we do not provide a quality education in the early elementary years any gains made in pre-K are quickly lost, so I believe before we consider expanding our early childhood education we should first focus our efforts on addressing the shortcomings in our K-12 system. Devoting resources to new expensive programs will take away from this focus.
4. Tennessee was an early winner of Race to the Top funds. Do you believe this program has benefitted teachers and students in Tennessee?
While there’s no question that receiving Race to the Top funds has helped Tennessee, one of the things that concerns me about the program is that the U.S. Department of Education has been able to coerce states into reforms that exceed the department’s authority. I think that the program could be strengthened significantly if we reauthorize ESEA programs so that there is explicit authorization as to what can – and can’t – be pursued for state reforms. I look forward to seeing our state’s continued progress.
5. Do you think it’s time to revamp Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)? Times have changed since it was first passed in 1974, and some people believe FERPA does not do enough to protect children’s privacy in the digital age.
FERPA protects students from their educational records from being shared for non-educational purposes without their—or, in the case of a minor, their parent’s—consent. This basic principal has not changed even as the way in which data is stored and handled has changed. With that being said, there’s no question that data is being shared in ways that couldn’t have possibly been imagined in 1974, so I think it’s important for Congress to review how data is being used and determine if additional limits are warranted.
6. As a member of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, you must see a lot of bills that have been filed. If you could pass one piece of legislation today in regards to education, which bill would it be and why?
We know that 2,000 high schools in our country account for 75 percent of the dropouts nationwide. We must focus our efforts to improve these schools, but in the meantime, students trapped in these so-called “drop-out factories” deserve a choice in where they get their education. I believe expanding the DC voucher program, in which students are given a voucher so they can choose where they get their education, is the most important reform to ensure an entire generation of students isn’t lost.
7. Similar to the previous question, which law would you like to see repealed (or change) to help our education system?
According to the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) analysis and explanation of the latest rule for school lunch nutrition standards, the maximum number of calories a student in grades K-5 can have at lunch is 650. This is the first time in history the USDA has set a calorie cap on students. This rule is so overly prescriptive teachers are left with the challenge of teaching hungry students. Students and teachers aren’t the only ones suffering under this new rule. I have been contacted by a school director in my district that has had to resort to instructing his cafeteria staff to count out how many tater tots each student gets just so he’s in compliance with these regulations. I believe we should repeal the calorie caps on school lunches and focus more in providing nutritious meals for students that participate in school lunch programs around the country.