Education Bill Finally Passes; Draws Fire from National Associations
The No Child Left Behind education bill, signed in January, was a bit of a split decision for President Bush. The bill represents a significant shift in federal education policy by forcing schools to be accountable for their students' learning by mandating annual tests. Bush mentioned this point repeatedly during his campaign.
Starting in the 2004 school year, states will be required to conduct annual tests that measure the reading and math proficiency of students in grades 3 through 8. Results will be released to parents and to the federal government.
The bill also sets new standards for teachers, calling for them to be fully qualified in their subject areas.
The final version of the bill, which was roundly debated and reworked in the House and Senate education committees, dealt one notable blow to Bush. It failed to support a federally funded voucher program that would allow public funds to pay for private education.
The National Education Association is unhappy with the bill because although states are free to develop testing measures as they see fit, they will also be shouldering most of the cost of testing. "While the bill sets out noble goals to raise student achievement and increase accountability, it fails to deliver the support required to help children achieve higher standards," says Bob Chase, NEA president.
A change in the Title I formula will help districts, especially those in urban areas. Districts in which 15 percent or more of students come from low-income families will have more flexibility in how they spend Title I money. To some degree, dollars can be shifted to pay for programs that need the support. Because of this, some of the new bill's most enthusiastic supporters are from big cities. Chicago public schools stand to gain 29 percent more Title I dollars because of the formula change, according to one report. This bumps its funding from $170 million to $220 million.
The superintendent of the Houston Independent School District-the district formerly served by Secretary of Education Rod Paige-supports the bill. "The passage of this legislation signals an exciting era for students," says Kaye Stripling, Houston superintendent.
The NEA is only one of several associations disappointed with the new bill. "The No. 1 reason we are not endorsing the bill is its lack of mandatory funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act," says Mary Conk, legislative analyst with the American Association of School Administrators. The act covers the needs of special education students. The current budget pays for 15 percent of special education costs. Congress promised 20 years ago, that it would fund 40 percent of these costs.
Three other national education associations criticized the bill's limited funding for science and math instruction. Only $12.5 million will be appropriated for new math and science partnership programs, a a fraction of the $450 million initially requested by the House education committee, notes the National Science Teachers Association, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education.
Highlights of the No Child Left Behind 2002 Education Bill
$26.5 billion is authorized for K-12 education in 2002; a $8 billion increase from the 2001 budget.
$1 billion will be spent during the next five years to improve reading. This is three times the amount provided in the 2001 package.
The Title I formula has been changed, allowing funds to be re-distributed to programs that need support. Urban districts stand to benefit the most.
Students in grades 3 through 8 will be tested annually for reading and math proficiency; this initiative begins with the 2004-05 academic year. Low-performing schools with students who do not show improvement for two consecutive years could be in line for additional funding. The money can be used to tutor students or to transport them to other schools. Low-performing schools that do not improve for six consecutive years can be re-staffed.
Within four years teachers must be qualified in their subject areas. Optimally, teachers will hold college degrees or certification in their subject fields.