Schumer presses for more school aid
Reports from Buffalo indicate that this is a milestone, the first admission by a local superintendent that the system is designed to dismantle public education. And note the Democratic political response: more money for NCLB. "No problem" with the "high standards" set by NCLB.
By Mary B. Pasciak
SEN. CHARLES E. SCHUMER: "I'm all for high standards. But what good is it if you don't give the schools the resources they need to meet those standards?"
Local schools next year are likely to be shortchanged $56 million in federal funds intended to help the neediest students, Sen. Charles E. Schumer says. When the federal No Child Left Behind Act was signed four years ago, President Bush promised certain funding levels for the plan, which holds public schools accountable for ensuring students meet certain standards.
But for the last four years, the federal government has underfunded No Child Left Behind, Schumer said, arguing that Bush's budget for next year would produce the biggest funding gap to date.
"I'm all for high standards," Schumer said in a recent telephone conference with reporters. "But what good is it if you don't give the schools the resources they need to meet those standards?"
Schools across upstate New York are in line to receive $320.5 million next year, only 58 percent of what they had been promised under No Child Left Behind, according to information provided by Schumer.
Under the president's budget, Western New York schools would get $68.4 million, only 55 percent of the promised $124.4 million, while schools in Erie County would receive an average of 52 cents of every dollar promised.
"There's no question Title I is underfunded nationally, as well as here in the Buffalo district," said Allison Turley, director of federal programs for Buffalo Public Schools. "We have never been able to reach all the students we need to reach."
Full funding would go a long way toward hiring more math and reading specialists in each school, along with providing additional books, technology and supplies for students, she said.
Buffalo schools get the biggest chunk of Title I funds among local schools. They are also the most underfunded; the city will get only about half of the $70 million it was promised. Other districts' share of Title I funds is far less, but officials everywhere say they still feel the pinch of federal cuts.
"I think the plan is to have public schools fail so we can start shifting more and more money to charter schools and voucher programs," Sloan Superintendent James P. Mazgajewski said. "I think what they're trying to do is break down the system."
No Child Left Behind calls for all schools to meet the standards by 2014. If a school fails to meet standards two years in a row, students must be given the chance to transfer to another public school. After three years, schools have to offer students the chance to receive outside tutoring paid by the district. Schools that do not improve ultimately could be taken over by the state or reopened as charter schools.
Struggling schools have not been getting enough money to meet their needs, Schumer said - a sentiment that school officials are quick to agree with.
"We've got way more people in socioeconomic need than we had before," Mazgajewski said. "To get those people to meet the standards, we need more services than we needed before. It just doesn't happen in a normal classroom with 30 kids."
Schumer said that this fall, he will support an amendment to the labor, health and human services appropriations bill that would fully fund Title I.
The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the bill in July. He said he has lobbied Sens. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the committee's leaders, to increase Title I funding.
Mary B. Pasciak
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES