- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2002

Education Secretary Rod Paige met with nearly 30 state education leaders yesterday as part of a new partnership aimed at helping states implement education reforms that President Bush signed into law on Tuesday.

Mr. Paige said "the heavy lifting will begin" now that the education initiative is law.

He said the meeting was the first of its kind between Education Department officials and state education leaders, and would not be the last.

"This first-ever meeting was a substantive discussion," Mr. Paige said. "We want to be partners with the states and territories. Our success in leaving no child behind is dependent on one another."

David Stewart, West Virginia's superintendent of education, said the federal-state dialogue "has been needed for a long time."

"None of us have all the answers, but collectively we can probably figure them out if we keep talking," said Ted Stilwill, director of the Iowa Department of Education.

The new law, which is aimed at closing the gap between rich and poor students, redefines the federal role in education and requires new accountability for states.

States will have to test public school students in grades three through eight each year in reading and math, starting in the 2005-06 school year.

They also must develop plans to raise all students' 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.

"We're always going to scream about federal intrusion; especially in the heartland, that's the American way," said Andy Tompkins, Kansas commissioner of Education. "But the truth is, when it is a fit, then it is the right thing to do for kids."

The meeting provided a forum for state officials to ask questions. Many states are implementing some degree of education reform on their own, and some state officials wondered if "they have to throw it out and start over," said James Horne, Florida secretary of education.

Mr. Horne said Florida already is meeting many of the new law's requirements, but "there is going to be some pain involved" for all states.

Mr. Paige said a system will be set up to handle questions from state education leaders as the process unfolds.

States are set to get a boost in education spending under the new law, which authorizes $26.5 billion for education programs. Congress has agreed to appropriate $22 billion of that money this year, which is a $3.4 billion increase over last year's level.

The law's implementation will be lead by Undersecretary of Education Gene Hickok and Susan Neuman, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.

The department's next step will be to flesh out any vague areas of the law and develop specific rules for states to follow.

That process will begin in February, and final regulations are expected by June, Miss Neuman said.

"We're waiting to see the final details," said Richard Thompson, Mississippi's superintendent of education.

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