Bush celebrates education changes

Published: Thursday, January 9, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 9, 2003 at 12:07 a.m.
WASHINGTON - President Bush marked the anniversary of last year's education law Wednesday by announcing that government was beginning oversight of efforts to hold schools accountable. "The time for excuse-making has come to an end," he said.
Teachers unions and Democratic lawmakers complained that the president's budgets have failed to allot enough money for schools to fulfill the promise of the No Child Left Behind Act, which Bush signed one year ago.
The president rejected those arguments, saying he will propose holding federal funds steady at $387 million, the same level as the current year, to defray testing costs. He said funding increased 49 percent between 2000 and 2002 for programs affected by the law.
But, he said, "This issue is not just about money."
"We must spend money more wisely. We must spend money on what works, and we must make sure we continue to insist upon results for the money we spend," Bush said during an East Room speech.
Focusing on a politically popular theme expected to be part of his 2004 re-election campaign, Bush said the law was "the most meaningful education reform probably ever," with its emphasis on testing, accountability and consequences for lagging performance.
Under the law, states must devise and offer tests in reading and mathematics for every child each year in grades three through eight, beginning in fall 2005. Under current law, states are required to test students in reading and math three times during their K-12 years.
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, it must begin paying transportation costs of students who opt to attend other schools.
By the end of January, states must present the government with their plans for holding schools accountable for making progress each year, reporting performance to parents and helping students achieve proficiency in the tested subjects.
Several states submitted their plans early and Bush gave approval to five of them, from Massachusetts, New York, Indiana, Colorado and Ohio. "There's 45 more to go," he said. Education Secretary Rod Paige met with chief state school officers from four of the states during an event marking the anniversary.
Richard Mills, of New York, said the new law has provided for more consistent education policy on the local, state and federal levels.
"We still argue endlessly about tactics, but the debate about the goals is over," Mills said.
Democrats criticized Bush for promoting the school changes without sufficiently funding them, particularly when states and local governments are laboring under staggering budget deficits.
Dan Domenech, schools superintendent in Fairfax County, Va., said one year's experience shows that complying with the law requires substantial additional resources.
"You can't simply set higher standards and say jump higher and expect that that will happen, unless you provide the support for that to take place," he said.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, complained that Bush's budget for the current fiscal year contains the smallest increase for education since 1996.

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