INSIDE WASHINGTON/Preparing for the final
City officials from across the country are developing a strategy to pressure Congress and the White House to rewrite major portions of the No Child Left Behind Act and provide adequate funding to implement its directives. Congress must reauthorize the act in 2007.
Local officials say the funding falls far below what is needed to help students achieve the test scores used to evaluate teachers and schools. “Children cannot be mandated to greatness,” says Arlington, Mass., Selectman Charles Lyons, who serves as superintendent director for a regional technical school district. “It is an oxymoron to demand high performance while at the same time providing fewer resources.”
Local officials cite the 2005 budget approved by Congress last month as an example of how education programs are not being fully funded. For example, President Bush requested $13.4 billion for Title I grants earmarked for low-income schools, but Congress only approved $12.8 billion. In another program, Bush asked for $11 billion for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, while Congress only allocated $10.7 billion.
After receiving much bipartisan fanfare when the No Child Left Behind legislation was approved by Congress in 2001, Democrats blame Bush’s spending guidelines enforced by the Republican-controlled Congress for the act’s lack of funding. Newly elected Nevada Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid says it is his party’s goal this year to ensure the act’s name “has some meaning and not leave children behind like we know is happening all over America because it’s so under funded.”
Local officials also are challenging the measure used by the federal government — standardized testing of student’s academic ability — to assess schools’ and teachers’ performances. New Haven, Conn., Alderwoman Rosa Santana says the testing is flawed because it requires all students, including learning disabled children, to take the same test, which could influence the school’s rating. “Not every student tests well,” she says.
The No Child Left Behind Act also has discouraged people who otherwise might pursue a career in public education, says Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Councilwoman Kathy Kane, an educator with 34 years of experience. “I think everyone wants accountability,” she says. “But to be threatened that if you don’t perform, then we are going to fire you puts added pressure on the teacher.”
Lyons contends Capitol Hill fails to see that improving public schools and revitalizing neighborhoods are not two mutually exclusive ideas, especially in the inner cities. He also notes a lack of adequate federal investment.
“Value of property is determined by schools,” he says. “You’ve got to rebuild and invest in neighborhoods, and you need good schools and safe streets.”
The fact that local officials are preparing now to try and influence the act’s reauthorization demonstrates how seriously they view the issue. They are expected to reach out to Margaret Spelling, Bush’s nominee for Secretary of Education, to discuss their suggestions following her confirmation by the Senate.
“[We want to] work together to alleviate the problems, instead of basically saying everything is okay,” says Columbus, Ohio, Council-member Charleta Tavares.
The author is Washington correspondent for American City & County.