Democrats Push for Changes to No Child Left Behind Law
Democratic Congressional leaders are proving themselves no more willing to listen to educators than are Republicans. They all march to the Business Roundtable drumroll.
By Diana Jean Schemo
WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 — Democratic Congressional leaders on Monday called President Bush’s signature education law too punitive in its sanctions on public schools and pledged to increase educational spending, signaling the stance they will take this year in negotiations over the law’s renewal.
The comments came as Mr. Bush discussed renewal of the law, No Child Left Behind, at a White House meeting with legislators of both parties on the law’s fifth anniversary. The measure prods schools to improve students’ yearly achievement with the threat of sanctions and requires them to bring all students to grade level in reading and math by 2014.
In remarks after the meeting, Mr. Bush predicted a strong bipartisan effort to address “major concerns” about No Child Left Behind “without weakening the essence of the bill.”
He added, “We showed in the past that we can work together to get positive results, and I’m confident we can do so again.”
While the tenets of the law enjoy strong bipartisan support, No Child Left Behind has also become a partisan battleground, with Democrats accusing Republicans of underfinancing it by $56 billion. Groups across the political spectrum are looking for changes and refinements, including removal of sanctions and imposition of a single national standard for academic performance.
The Democrats, now in the majority, began to stake out their own positions. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, who did not attend the president’s meeting, said that “accountability measures have proven far too punitive, and states have been given little flexibility in implementing the law’s requirements.”
Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who took over as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said after the meeting with the president, “We’ve learned a lot from the past five years, and we know changes are needed to help improve and strengthen the law.”
His aides said Mr. Kennedy was proposing incentives for states to work together toward common academic standards that would help them and meet the demands of college, work and military service. Currently, states vary wildly in what they consider sufficient progress under the law.
Mr. Kennedy has also suggested expanding social programs for low-income children and putting outreach workers in every impoverished school, as a way of raising achievement. He is also proposing a new federal role in school construction and renovation.
Under existing rules, students have the right to transfer from subpar schools to ones with higher test scores, even if overcrowding would result. The Democratic proposal is intended to reduce crowding.
Representative George Miller, Democrat of California, the new chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor who also attended the White House meeting, urged the president and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings to make sharp increases in spending on the impoverished schools singled out by No Child Left Behind.
“The No Child Left Behind Act has brought important changes to our public education system, for example, by shining a spotlight on the persistent achievement gap that exists among different groups of students in our country,” Mr. Miller said. “But if we are going to fulfill our original commitment to children and parents, then the law, its implementation and its funding must be improved.”
Mr. Bush did not indicate whether he would seek additional financing. But Ms. Spellings indicated that the administration would be amenable to changes in a number of areas the Democrats were suggesting, including the incentives to make state standards more rigorous and uniform. She also said that areas of common concern included how to test special education students and those with limited English.
Diana Jean Schemo
New York Times
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