Lack of money and delayed guidelines from the federal government are undermining states’ efforts to comply with the year-old school-reform law that promises to “leave no child behind,” according to a study released Jan. 3 by the Center on Education Policy, a think tank that advocates and studies public education.
Although President Bush says federal spending on education has increased by 40 percent under his administration, state education officials say these increases aren’t enough to help states and school districts comply with the tough new accountability measures of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (NCLB).
The reportand the resulting publicity it has receivedhas ratcheted up the debate over how much the federal government should spend on education. The outcome of the funding debate will have a significant impact on the ability of schools to deploy high-tech solutions in their quest for greater student achievement.
For its report, the center interviewed education officials in 48 states and the District of Columbia to gauge compliance with the law, which President Bush signed on Jan. 8, 2002. States that fall short could lose federal education money.
“Delays in providing crucial information and threats of rigorous enforcement have made state leaders increasingly anxious about how to go about introducing the most sweeping changes in education in 40 years,” said Jack Jennings, director of the center.
States are making significant progress in meeting the requirements for testing students and assessing schools, but state officials want more time and flexibility, the study found. States also say they need more federal help, especially in light of the current economic slump.
The study comes as state officials are scrambling to meet a Jan. 31 deadline for submitting their plans for NCLB compliance to the U.S. Department of Education.
State officials are worried that the remediation required when large numbers of schools are labeled as failing will overwhelm the financial resources available and subvert the law’s intent of focusing extra help on the neediest schools.
In response to these concerns, Education Undersecretary Eugene Hickok said state officials shouldn’t object if many of their schools end up listed as needing improvement, because that will raise standards. “I think it’s very probable that we will have lots of schools needing improvement,” Hickok said.
“The point is that this law places a very high premium on making sure that achievement gaps are found and eradicated,” he said. “That’s going to place a higher standard of achievement on most states.”
Hickok said the law would help better target spending by creating a way to “recognize where the need is.”
But spending, targeted or not, is at the center of the debate in Washington. A skirmish broke out immediately after the holidays about funding levels for 2004. Trouble is, funding for 2003 has yet to be determined.
One day after the study was released, President Bush proposed a $1 billion increase in Title I funding for low-income students for fiscal year 2004. But Democrats and some state education officials blasted the president’s proposal as inadequate, noting that the President’s proposed funding level would still only bring Title I funding to two-thirds of what Congress authorized when it passed the education reform bill last year.
In his weekly radio address Jan. 4, Bush said the budget request he’ll submit to Congress in February for fiscal year 2004 will include $12.3 billion for the federal Title I program. If approved, he said, it would mark the highest funding level ever for the program.
But Congress has yet to approve education spending levels for the 2003 fiscal year. Before the Nov. 5 elections, the Democrat-controlled Senate was at odds with the Bush administration and the GOP-led House over funding. Among other differences, Democrats and some moderate Republicans in the Senate had approved $11.85 billion for Title I programs in 2003, some $450 million more than Bush had proposed and the House had favored.
After the elections, which returned control of the Senate to the Republicans, the House voted to table discussion on the 2003 spending bill until the new Congress convenes Jan. 7.
NCLB was designed to give parents more control over their children’s education by allowing students to transfer to a different public school if their own fails to meet state-set standards.
The law requires annual state tests in reading and mathematics for every child in grades three through eight, beginning in the fall of 2005. Schools with stagnant scores get more money, but students must be offered the option of transferring to better-performing public schools. After three years, a school district must offer tutoring at its expense. After four years, a district must begin paying transportation costs for students who opt to attend other schools.
In his radio address, Bush said his administration has provided “more than enough money” to pay for the testing and lauded the strings the law attaches to additional federal funding. “We are insisting that schools use that money wisely,” he said.
But Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who helped craft the legislation with Bush, contended the president has failed to allot enough money for schools to fulfill the law’s promise. He said the increase Bush has in mind for next year was $6 billion less than allowed in the bill.
“Reform without resources is just hollow talknot the real improvement our children need and deserve,” Kennedy said in a statement. “The president’s proposal may provide the money to test our children, but not enough to teach them. It’s wrong to ask schools to do better on pocket change, especially as states face $68 billion shortfalls.”
Center on Education Policy
U.S. Department of Education
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.