Rules Relief

WASHINGTON — Education officials who say they are weighed down by burdensome regulations imposed by federal laws pleaded their cases to a House of Representatives committee here on Tuesday, and while they represented preschools through colleges, they agreed strongly on one thing: many regulations are dragging institutions down.

The hearing was the first in a series that new Republican leaders of the House’s Education and the Workforce Committee plan to conduct to explore the impact of hundreds of federal regulations on all levels of education (though much of the discussion revolved around the pending renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which governs K-12). Debate in the inaugural session made everyone’s frustration apparent, with lawmakers and witnesses alike lamenting the heavy toll in time and money of the regulatory requirements with which schools and colleges must comply, in exchange for the funding and other benefits they receive through federal programs. (It was notable that while leaders of the House panel have strongly attacked as "job-killing" overregulation new Education Department rules governing for-profit colleges, that topic was not discussed at Tuesday’s hearing.)

Most participants in the hearing seemed to agree that the House — now that it is in the hands of free-market-thinking Republicans — would seek to push toward more streamlined regulation that would lessen the extent of often-redundant data collection, paperwork and other information requirements that come along with federal laws and provisions. (Such pushes are fairly regular rituals in Washington — particularly when Republicans are in charge — but they rarely deliver the promised relief.) It was estimated that such tasks cost schools and colleges millions of dollars and hundreds of hours in labor.

For instance, the federal government itself estimated that the "burden hours" for various provisions in the "general and non-loan programmatic issues" regulations that the Education Department issued in 2009 alone ranged from 1 to 109,645 hours.

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