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Florida school chief goes to capital to brag

With Republicans trying to seize education as a political issue this year, state Education Commissioner Frank Brogan came to Washington on Tuesday to boast about Florida's successes in improving public schools.

At a reporters' breakfast sponsored by the Republican National Committee, and then in testimony on Capitol Hill, Brogan said Florida spends millions of dollars unnecessarily to administer inflexible federal programs.

His advice to the GOP-led Congress: Give the states and school districts more autonomy.

"The genius of public education doesn't lie in Washington and it doesn't lie in Tallahassee," Brogan said.

Like a lot of Republicans, Brogan argues that the current public school system is badly flawed.

"We've peaked in Florida and most states with the system as we've known it," Brogan said.

Unlike a lot of politicians on Capitol Hill, though, Brogan has done something about it.

He helped pass a charter school law in Florida, giving parents more say in where to send their children.

He also has taken steps to improve public schools by identifying 158 low-performing schools. All but two are off the list.

Brogan advocates tougher teaching standards. In its version of the education bill moving through Congress, the Senate included a measure by Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla., to reward states that periodically test teachers.

It also would encourage merit pay for better teachers.

But, as Congress passes an education reform agenda this year, Brogan urged politicians to avoid piling on more federal regulations and to simply pay for the requirements Washington already has passed.

Federal regulations require the state to assign 297 employees to oversee $1-billion in federal funds, he said.

By contrast, another $8-billion in state funds is overseen by only 374 employees.