- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2001

It's back-to-school time for parents, children and department store sales. While families prepare to get their children outfitted for the next grade, governors have their hands tied on how much they can spend for education in their state, as they wait for Congress to quit wrangling over a loaded education bill that authorizes federal money for state programs. The bill, which is supposed to improve the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 by cutting inefficient programs and adding accountability, is still caught up in squabbles over funding. Meanwhile, President Bush's pet project has slithered from compromise to compromise, leaving little in the way of reform.
In the Republican-dominated House, the bill authorizes $23 billion, while in the Democratic-run Senate, the bill would provide $41.8 billion for education funding, which includes allotments for projects such as annual testing for accountability and extra help for impoverished or neglected children. That is a far cry from the $19 billion Mr. Bush wanted for ESEA programs. More disturbing than the actual dollar amount being negotiated are the contents of the passage. Unlike the original education passage unveiled by the Bush administration during the president's first week in office, the legislation is now loaded with more paperwork, more inefficient programs, less school choice and less accountability. These have killed any sense that the education package would make a positive difference for America's children.
If Mr. Bush thought compromise and repeated pleas would get the bill on his desk before summer recess, he was mistaken. But one must ask why Mr. Bush was in such a hurry to pass a package that undercuts his plans for education. The Democrats have ensured that vouchers for poor children stuck in failing schools were removed from the package. Accountability has also been weakened by not making tests comparable and by allowing rewards to be given to failing schools, rather than those which have boosted achievement.
"If improvements are not made in conference, the cost of this legislation will be far greater than its price tag of some $400 billion over six years. The cost to children in failing schools who could have been helped will be incalculable," Krista Kafer said in a recent Heritage Foundation report.
Yet his desire to claim another victory for this first six months in office has skewed his understanding of reality. "I'm pleased to say that we're nearing historic reforms in public education," he said in June. "This is a victory for every child and for every family in America."
Whether his administration suffers from inflated idealism or a false understanding of reality, Mr. Bush must admit to his losses and veto the legislation. If the legislation emerges from a House-Senate conference still lacking the main tenets of his original package flexibility, choice and accountability he should be embarrassed to take any credit for that legislation. Indeed, if the current legislation represents what the president meant by reform, he sorely misled the American people.

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