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Youth Perspective: Bush is Leaving Children Behind

Ohanian Comment: Unfortunately, this commentator has bought the funding argument hook, line, and sinker.

Throughout the 2000 presidential election, it was clear that education was a top priority for George W. Bush. After I heard him outline his plans to increase federal funding for public schools and his promise to "leave no child behind," I was convinced that he would be the one to save America's education system.

But during the Republican National Convention, President Bush and the other speakers hardly mentioned education in their addresses. Why? Because the president's education policies have failed miserably.

This is surprising, considering the good start he received when Congress passed the well-intentioned No Child Left Behind Act in January 2002. Described by both parties as the most significant education reform bill since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, its purpose was to lower the achievement gap between students of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds. In order to increase the accountability of public schools, the legislation mandated standardized testing in several subjects, and it also ensured that all teachers were "highly qualified" in the subject they taught. States would issue annual report cards to show the progress of each public school.

Unfortunately, the president has failed to provide schools with adequate funding to carry out the initiatives outlined in the law. Although the No Child Left Behind Act promised to provide $1.5 billion for after-school programs, Bush's budget has frozen this funding and left out more than 50,000 children from these activities. Bush has also refused to provide support for the Teacher Quality State Grant Program, the federal program used to help teachers meet the new standards. According to Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, the president's 2005 budget provides $9.4 billion less than what was promised in the legislation. While teachers across the country have repeatedly urged Bush and Secretary of Education Rod Paige to reform the implementation process for the new standards, the administration has refused to listen.

Bush's inadequate funding of the "No Child Left Behind Act" has already worsened the state of education in California. The National Education Association estimates that more than 3,800 experienced teachers statewide will not return to classrooms, while 9,000 non-teaching education employees have lost their jobs. For the second year in a row, San Francisco was forced to cancel many summer-school classes and programs for elementary school students as well.

Students from low-income families have been the hardest hit by Bush's budget. High schoolers in cash-strapped districts suffer the consequences of underfunding: few after-school programs, unqualified teachers and antediluvian textbooks. Lacking a solid foundation in math, English, science and history, poorer students who fail standardized tests, such as the high school exit exam, are being forced to repeat a year in high school.

The deficient conditions in America's public schools have prevented underprivileged students from adequately learning the high school curriculum. If teenagers from inner-city schools want to receive a good education, one of the only choices they have is to enroll in private schools under a student- voucher program (where they are available) allowing them to opt out of failing public schools.

This appears to be one motive behind Bush's underfunding the No Child Left Behind Act. The president has always been an ardent proponent of student vouchers. With vouchers granting students up to $7,500 per year for a private alternative, the revenue that otherwise would have gone to public schools will only further their decline. The high number of students who will then fail in these public school systems will give proponents of school choice the perfect excuse to direct students into private schools.

The introduction of the No Child Left Behind Act was groundbreaking. Offering sweeping reforms to our nation's education system, it promised to reduce the gap between the test scores of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds. But the act's mandates need to be backed by a financial commitment at the federal level. Until Bush sufficiently funds the act, more children will be "left behind."

— Kevin Zhou, a junior at Monte Vista High School in Danville.
San Francisco Chronicle


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