- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2001

After just six months in office, President Bush seems to have given up on his campaign promise to America's children. After making education reform a pillar of his campaign, and launching his presidency with his "No Child Left Behind" proposal, he has watched the Democrats parse and splice the package until the legislation passed by the House and the Senate is not even a shadow of its former self. Now he just wants the end to come quickly. "This Congress needs to get an education reform bill on my desk before the summer recess," he said last week. "There is no need for further delay." Unless, of course, he desires any of the pillars of his education package to be revived: school choice, flexibility and accountability.
The House and Senate versions of bill now in conference do little to improve the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, which authorizes and compartmentalizes federal school funding. Do parents want the right to send children in failing schools to better ones, public or private, as Bush proposed? Too bad. The Senate bill does not allow students to transfer to another school out of the district or to attend private school with federal money. States and the local government still have the option of blocking a child in a failing school from going to another school in the district, however, Krista Kafer said in a recent Heritage Foundation report. The only exception for allowing a child to go to another district would be if he or she had been a victim of violence. By that time, obviously, the harm has already been done. Children attending failing schools would be given supplemental services in both versions of the bill, but confined to the same failing system.
Want more flexibility and less bureaucracy? Mr. Bush wanted 56 programs consolidated to 32, and spending, which despite its increase has not improved math and reading scores, decreased to $19 billion. However, the Senate would increase ESEA programs to around 80 different programs, which would cost $31 billion for the first year. The House would reduce ESEA to 50 programs, at a price tag of $22.9 billion for 35 and as much as would be required for the rest, according to the Republican Study Committee. While the House version contains a provision that would allow flexibility in 100 districts in their use of funds from four programs, the House and Senate bills are packed with more paperwork requirements.
Want children from poor neighborhoods to be able to perform at the same level as those from rich neighborhoods? Don't count on it. The Bush plan required people of different race and socioeconomic status to perform to the state standard with comparable tests, and achievement to be checked by scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam. Neither the House or Senate version demands similar tests, which allows lower expectations for those who are disadvantaged to prevail. The Senate bill requires NAEP exams but it is difficult to determine whether the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their peers has been closed because their scores are weighted. This is a far cry from the accountability Mr. Bush originally promised.
If all Mr. Bush wants is summer vacation, he should sign the compromise bill if it comes out of committee before summer recess. If he indeed wants to leave no child behind, he has only one choice: Veto.

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