- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Senate education leaders and the White House have agreed to a tentative deal that scales back President Bushs goal of holding schools accountable on national reading and math tests.
As the Senate opened debate yesterday on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Senate education committee aides said key members and the administration had negotiated over the weekend an agreement that would require schools receiving federal money for disadvantaged students to show steady improvement.
But the deal would demand of public schools far less than the 100 percent student proficiency sought by Mr. Bush with his campaign pledge to "leave no child behind." A senior Senate Republican aide called the presidents original plan "too ambitious."
As the bill is shaping up, parents who want to use federal money to send their children to a better school another of the presidents key proposals would not be able to do so until 2006 at the earliest.
Senators began debating the education bill on the floor yesterday though Democrats still had not reached agreement with the White House on their demand for more money for schools. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said he hoped to complete work on the bill by the end of next week.
Senate education committee aides said that historically no school district has been able to ensure that all of its students are proficient in reading and math within the administrations goal of 10 years. The new agreement calls for schools to increase students performance at one-third the rate that would be necessary to achieve 100-percent competency in math and reading.
One Senate aide called that growth rate "healthy" and said it represented an "objective way" of determining student progress.
"This is fairly data-driven," the aide said of using using state proficiency rates from spring 2002 tests to determine a baseline from which to gauge improvement rates.
David Griffith, spokesman for the National Association of State School Boards, said the original Bush plan was well-intentioned, but the sheer numbers of schools that were far below the administrations testing goals made it apparent that to carry out the program would overwhelm states.
"No one wants to wait. Everyone wants to get there as soon as possible, but you want to make sure you dont set yourself up to fail," said Mr. Griffith, who was uncertain how state education officials would react to the new deal.
In a briefing session on specifics of the Senate education package, committee staffers outlined a timeline for Mr. Bushs accountability plan. Under it, states must submit by March 2002 a baseline of current district proficiency levels and a plan for improvement, starting that school year.
In the next two years, a school would receive federal money to help reach the federally set goals, and in the fourth year of the Bush plan, schools would face mandatory corrective action. That would mean giving parents a school-choice option to transfer their children out of low-performing schools to better public schools.
It would also allow the bills supplemental services provisions to kick in, which could cost a school up to 15 percent of its funding for poor students, some to go to parents for tutoring and transportation.
Not until the fifth year of the plan 2006 would schools potentially face drastic federal intervention called "reconstitution." That would mean the failing school would be turned into a charter school, its staff would be removed or it could face such sanctions such as state takeover.
While the Senate continued making progress on the specifics of its education plan, House education committee members made their own tentative agreement over the weekend on giving local school districts more flexibility on using federal money.
Under the settlement, Republicans and Democrats said they will support a provision giving local school districts the opportunity to transfer up to 50 percent of the federal money they receive into programs that best serve their local needs. The districts would not need approval from the U.S. Department of Education or state education officials.


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