REFORMING PUBLIC EDUCATION GAINS MOMENTUM
By Margo Turner
April 4, 2001
advocates support three House bills, each of which is aimed at improving
the quality of the nation's schools and has a good chance of passing
if efforts to streamline federal education funding do not create
a stumbling block on Capitol Hill.
from four education organizations testified March 29 before the
House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding the "No
Child Left Behind Act of 2001" (H.R, 1), which is based on
President Bush's plan to overhaul the federal role in education;
the "Excellence and Accountability in Education Act" (H.R.)
340; and the "Public Education Reinvestment, Reinvention and
Responsibility" bill (H.R. 345).
L. Connor, president of the Family Research Council, praised H.R.
1 for placing emphasis on academic excellence and not social priorities.
The bill would allow states and local schools to have greater flexibility
and authority over education spending and decision-making, Connor
states and schools are empowered to make these decisions and to
be creative with their resources, "teachers will teach and
children will learn," he said.
Family Research Council supports tests that are designed to help
students, parents, teachers and schools at the local level, Connor
said. Congress should strike a provision from H.R. 1 that would
require a federally mandated state testing standard and assessment
in science, he told the House panel. ""Reading, writing
and math are the building blocks of academic achievement and we
must focus on these."
340 address Title 1 and improving the quality of teaching, two areas
of concern to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), according
to Randi Weingarten, AFT vice president and president of the United
Federation of Teachers in New York City.
340 would "strengthen Title 1's focus on helping disadvantaged
children reach high academic standards by significantly increasing
the authorization level, providing greater targeting of the funding,
requiring greater accountability for student progress, maintaining
the 50 percent threshold to operate schoolwide programs and providing
support to improve the quality the state assessments," Weingarten
for improving the quality of teaching, Weingarten said the AFT is
especially pleased with the bill's focus on assisting high-poverty
schools to provide adequate compensation for their teachers, which
would help "high-need schools" struggling to attract qualified
pointed out that H.R. 340 also addresses other areas of national
education concerns, such as a class-size reduction program, technology
and afterschool and school safety activities.
American Association of School Administrators (AASA) backs H.R.
345, also known as "Three R's." The bill would target
funds to schools with large concentrations of high-need students
and place clear accountability for achievement squarely on schools,
school districts and states rather than of children and create "bigger
funding streams" that drive a greater percentage of federal
funds to the local level, testified Dr. Paul Houston, AASA executive
believe districts serving concentrations of students who need assistance
in meeting the new content standards and districts that lack the
resources to meet the challenges they face ought to be the primary
focus of federal education programs," Houston said.
said H.R. 345 also includes the consolidation of a few similar programs,
mostly in Title 11, which the AASA supports.
will support consolidated programs that have the clear purpose of
moving high-need students and students in low resource schools to
meet the new high state standards," he said. "AASA will
support program consolidation that is accountable to results in
student achievement not counting participants or hours of participation."
three bills under consideration by the House panel provide essential
framework for more effective federal investments in K-12 education,
noted Keith E. Bailey, representing the Business Coalition of Excellence
said the coalition would like to see a different relationship between
the federal government and tube states when it comes to funding.
Federal legislation should not include categorical program models
and the more flexible, less well-defined block grant proposals that
impose little direction on priorities on national investments, he
urge you to be clear about what the federal investment is for, what
national needs and priorities must be addressed, but set standards
of local authorities have enough flexibility to achieve the results
you are asking them to provide," he said.
advocates differ in their views over school choice, which also could
be a bone of contention among House members.
said the AFT believes school choice should only be available under
the public school system where options must be held to the same
standards and be accountable for the use of public funds.
Family Research Council is convinced that the best way to achieve
real choice for all students is through education savings accounts
and tax credits, such as the Arizona tax credit law, Connor said.
Since the Arizona law took effect in 1997, he said more than 30,000
people have contributed money to private scholarships, raising approximately
$13.2 million. During the 1999-2000 school year, he added, more
than 7,000 students benefited from the Arizona plan.
encourages school districts to provide all the enrollment options
parents desire, Houston states\d. "Permitting some students
to use scarce federal funds to attend private or parochial schools
and then imposing huge new administrative costs of public schools
to track such students is an idea whose time has passed," he
said the country needs bold legislative language that does not waste
years of children's educational lives during implementation.
urge you to remain firm on the key system reforms you propose in
the pending legislation related to standards, assessments and accountability
so that the final result is the strongest bipartisan bill possible,"
he told the House panel.
a veteran journalist with experience covering Congress and federal
agencies, lives in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C.