President Bushs original education initiative, when released in January, stood on two principles: flexibility (for parents, states and school districts) and accountability (as measured by annual testing and arbitrated by parents via choice). “Both parties have been talking about education reform for quite awhile,” Mr. Bush said. “Its time to come together to get it done so that we can truthfully say in America: No child will be left behind not one single child.” Sounds rather straightforward, doesnt it? However, the watered down education bill which Congress is now considering isnt even a reasonable fascimile of the presidents original intentions. Most of the features that could have made this a workable, if not ideal, piece of legislation have been eroded by the grind of political trade-offs.
Indeed, Democrats and unions and disappointingly, Republicans who deemed the Bush plan too ambitious have crafted what easily can be called a plan than leaves no lobbyist behind. For example, while Congress proposes increased funding for bilingual programs, it offers little to ensure that those dollars are directed toward English proficiency. Similarly, Mr. Bush proposed allowing parents of poor children trapped in violent and failing schools to use a portion of their tax dollars to enroll their children in the school of their choice. That option, however, has vanished. In its stead is a proposal that would allow parents to use public dollars to pay for tutors something that, in and of itself, not only concedes failure on the part of public schools and makes of mockery of choice, but also guarantees zero accountability in the name of public education.
Mr. Bush could have taken a harder line in his initial education initiative and congressional leaders surely could have avoided what essentially became the ultimate nail in the coffin for true educational reform a debate over money vs. ideas. While parents push for quality teachers to improve instruction, Democrats carry the water for unions and push for more money for smaller classes. While parents beg for state-of-the-art classrooms, the Senate approves an amendment by Barbara Mikulski that would send $100 million to community centers for computers.
Democrats have always argued that money is the education-reform linchpin, but Republicans know there is no correlation between higher per-pupil spending and higher achievement. To the contrary, a state-by-state analysis of by the American Legislative Exchange Council shows that while per-pupil expenditures rose nearly 23 percent over two decades, scores on standardized tests remained stagnant.
Yet, instead of embracing reforms, Congress watered down President Bushs education initiative. Essentially, they will begin voting this week reauthorizing existing programs and policies at higher spending levels ensuring that many, many children will indeed be left behind.
So it looks as though Mr. Bush needs to remind House and Senate Republicans that he didnt merely promise a bipartisan education plan. What the president said was, “Bipartisan education reform will be the conerstone of my administration.” And that is precisely what Congress must deliver.