- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2000

After 35 years of watching taxpayers' money pour into a failing federal education program, the Senate has come up with a new initiative to cut bureaucratic expenditure and maximize school choice and academic achievement. Since last week, the Senate has been debating reform to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), a program signed into law in 1965 by Lyndon Johnson to improve education and narrow the achievement gap between poor students and their more affluent peers. Unfortunately, decades later, one-third of disadvantaged students have not received the money set aside for them by the program, and 77 percent of students in very poor urban schools are reading below the basic level. Half of the students from urban school districts do not graduate on time, if at all, according to statistics from Sen. Judd Gregg's office.

Part of the problem may be that so much federal money goes to cover administrative costs, rather than for the instruction of the disadvantaged students it is designed to assist. Not coincidentally, less than half of those employed by U.S. public schools were teachers in 1994. "Perhaps the federal government's penchant for rules and regulations could explain the growth in administrative personnel," Mr. Gregg said. "In Florida, for example, it takes six times as many people to administer a federal education dollar as it does for a state education dollar: 297 state employees are responsible for $1 billion in federal funds while 374 employees oversee $7 billion state funds," he said.

Republicans are now offering four reform measures to make this educational negligence a thing of the past:

• Title 1 Portability reform would allow the money set aside for low-income students (ages 5-17 whose families are below the poverty line) to be used for supplemental educational services for the child, such as tutoring. States can choose whether to participate in the program, but those schools which participate must submit an annual student performance review to the secretary of education for accountability.

• The Straight A's reform, modeled after an earlier House version of the bill, would allow up to 15 states to consolidate federal funding from 12 different ESEA programs and to give it to the programs the state believes need it most. Like Title 1 Portability, states would be held accountable by the secretary of education. If, after 5 years, they do not meet the achievement standards they created for themselves, the secretary has the authority to discontinue the agreement.

• The public school choice initiative would allow children in schools which have been designated as failing for two years to transfer to another public school of choice, using their failing school's Title 1 money to do so.

• The Teacher Empowerment Act also allows consolidation of funds from two ESEA programs to provide $2 billion a year for five years for teacher training and support. It requires that 95 percent of the funds be given directly to school districts, restricting state and other administrative costs to the remaining 5 percent.

Threats by the Democrats to add amendments on China, campaign finance reform and gun control, would bog down this innovative bill. Thirty-five years has been a long time to wait for reform. The United States can't stand to fail three more generations of Title 1 children to the tune of more than $120 billion. Lawmakers should vote and approve the Republicans' sound, workable alternative as soon as possible.

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