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From the people’s house to the schoolhouse? Rep. Rob Bishop hints at return to teaching after leaving Congress

‘Next time the state has a large surplus, don’t cut taxes, buy out the federal government,’ Bishop tells Sutherland Institute audience

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FILE - Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for Northrop Grumman’s missile defense development facility in Roy on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — As Rep. Rob Bishop prepares to “retire” from the U.S. House of Representatives, the eight-term Utah congressman and former high school teacher is hinting he might return to the classroom.

“I am going to quit and I actually want to teach again,” said Bishop, R-Utah, speaking at an event on innovation in education conducted by Sutherland Institute think tank on Wednesday.

“Part of me would like to go back to the high school and see if I can handle it because there’s not a whole lot of 69-year-olds that start a career in public education,” he said.

Bishop has a current teaching license that expires on June 30, 2020, according to the Utah State Board of Education’s Educator Look-Up Tool.

He last taught in 2002 at Box Elder High School in Brigham City, teaching U.S. history, U.S. history honors, and Advanced Placement U.S. government and politics, according to state records.

While returning to the classroom would better inform him of what’s happening in Utah schools after more than 16 years serving in Congress, Bishop said he firmly believes the federal government should have no role in public education.

“In fact, the next time the state has a large surplus, don’t cut taxes, buy out the federal government. Get them out of the system altogether, so you don’t have the controls that actually have to come along with that same thing,” he said.

He quoted former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, who used to say, “If you want to get out of the trap, you have to let go of the cheese.” Bishop added, “If you want to get out of the trap of constant federal control, let go (of) the cheese. You have to get out of that particular system.”

He was particularly critical of the federal government’s handling of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The states should have “a hell of a lot more” flexibility in meeting students’ needs, he said.

“The state has always been more generous in the funding of that program than the federal government has. The federal government’s given all sorts of promises for the past 30 years and has never lived up to any of those promises. That’s another example of let state do what the state can do and do it better,” Bishop said.

Asked how the state could better address its teacher shortage, Bishop said teachers should be paid as well as school administrators “so you don’t have to get the big bucks by leaving the classroom. If you want to maintain teachers, give them control of the curriculum they’re supposed to do. If they do it differently than other school down the street, who cares?”

Bishop, who taught public school for 28 years, said federal education initiatives such as No Child Left Behind and Common Core have been “basically hype” and have done little to improve teaching and learning.

Asked if there is anything Congress can do to help public education, Bishop flatly replied, “Nothing.”

“Get us out of the way. You don’t need our money. We don’t have the money in the first place, so quit asking for it. And you don’t need our controls. You can do it. You don’t need us.”

Local control helps ensure school districts offer what parents and students want, he said.

“If really, the local districts are the ones that are actually becoming the innovators, they’re moving things, they’re allowed to do it, and the state legislature lets them do it, and the state school board goes away and lets them do it, I can see nothing else but positive coming out of that.”

But it will take a change of mindset because public education has historically been structured with a central command.

“A lot of people get very worried because they may lose power if you actually restructure it in that way,” he said.