- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Top Education Department officials met yesterday with leaders from the nation's largest urban school systems to discuss implementation of the education law signed last month.
Secretary of Education Rod Paige said the new law is "very finely targeted to those most in need, many of them in the big cities," so the leadership in those cities "has to take a defining role" in implementing it.
The new law targets more federal education money to areas that need it most, and gives state and local governments increased flexibility in how some of the money can be spent. But it also requires substantial new accountability for student performance and allows parents to choose a better-performing public school if their child is stuck in a chronically failing one.
More than 40 school superintendents and school board members participated in the meeting, which is part of an ongoing effort by the department to build relationships with state and local education leaders.
Cities represented included Chicago; New York; Houston; Atlanta; Washington; Denver; Detroit; Buffalo, N.Y.; Birmingham, Ala.; Dayton, Ohio; and Milwaukee.
Under the new law, states will have to test public school students in grades three through eight in reading and math, starting in the 2005-06 school year. They also must develop plans to raise all students' test scores to the proficiency level within 12 years, and must certify within four years that all teachers are qualified to teach in their subject areas.
Some participants were worried about implementing the changes within those time frames, but Mr. Paige assured them the department would assist. Eric Smith, superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, said the timelines "can be met" as long as some flexibility is allowed.
The new law authorizes $26.5 billion for states. Congress agreed to appropriate $22 billion of that for fiscal 2002, which is a $3.4 billion increase over last year.
As part of the funding, Congress appropriated $10.4 billion for Title 1, the program that targets money to schools in poor areas, like inner cities. All cities represented in yesterday's meeting receive Title 1 funding, an Education Department official said. President Bush is asking for an increase of $1 billion for Title 1 in his fiscal 2003 budget.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and one of the authors of the new law, made a brief appearance at the meeting, praising the department's efforts to reach out to state and city leaders. "We've come a long way," he said.
But he also warned he is "strongly committed to getting additional resources." Mr. Kennedy and other Democrats say more money is needed to meet the testing and other requirements of the new law.
"I think we are all worried about having enough resources to implement everything," said Kenneth Burnley, chief executive officer of Detroit Public Schools.
He said he was reassured by Mr. Kennedy's words.
William Weitzel, superintendent of Oklahoma City public schools pointed out that states already are receiving a sizable boost in spending from Congress to implement the new law.
And he said state and local leaders will be able to implement the reforms because the new law gives them more flexibility to shift some federal education dollars to areas that need it most.
"It's up to us to identify priorities and use the money to do the best we can for what is needed in our districts," he said. "We have to; there's not infinite money."
Mr. Kennedy was critical of an education tax credit proposed by the president in his 2003 budget.
He said the money should be invested in struggling public schools. "That's going to be a battle."

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