- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2002

President Bush tomorrow will sign into law a landmark education bill that sends more money to the states, requires new accountability of student performance and, for the first time, provides public funding for children in failing schools to receive private tutoring.
"These historic reforms will improve our public schools by creating an environment where every child can learn," Mr. Bush said Dec. 18, after Congress cleared the measure.
A White House spokeswoman said Mr. Bush would sign the bill tomorrow in Hamilton, Ohio in the congressional district of Republican Rep. John A. Boehner, chairman of the House Education Committee.
The president will then make stops in New Hampshire and Massachusetts later tomorrow to discuss education, ending with a speech on the subject Wednesday in Washington, the spokeswoman said.
The measure, which has been one of the president's top domestic priorities, authorizes $26.4 billion in fiscal 2002 for education programs. Congress has appropriated $22 billion of that money, which nonetheless is a $3.4 billion increase over last year's funding level.
Starting in September, there will be new options for parents whose children attend schools that have consistently failed to meet existing federal standards for education.
Parents could transfer their children to better-performing public schools or send them for extra academic help, such as tutoring. The local school district would have to use a portion of its federal funding to pay for the extra academic help, which could be provided by private or religious organizations.
According to a survey conducted by Republican aides on Mr. Boehner's education committee, students in more than 6,700 failing schools would be eligible to transfer to better public schools, and students in nearly 3,000 failing schools could receive the extra academic help, starting in the fall. Even more schools could be affected because some states did not respond to the survey.
The bill also would immediately let states and school districts shift to areas of greater need up to 50 percent of the federal education funds that are not designated for poor schools.
Prince George's County School District in Maryland, for example, is set to receive $1.2 million under the bill, for a program to develop innovative teaching methods, according to David Schnittger, spokesman for Mr. Boehner.
Under current law, neither those nor any other federal funds can be used for anything else. But the education bill would give the school district the flexibility to use the money elsewhere.
"That would help us tremendously," said Ken Johnson, chairman of the Board of Education for Prince George's County Schools. Mr. Johnson said his schools need more money for teacher salaries, technology and textbooks.
Mr. Schnittger noted, however, that federal funds specifically earmarked for schools that serve poor children would be protected and could not be used for other purposes.
The education bill also would require states to test third- though eighth-graders annually in reading and math, starting in 2005, and develop standards to bring all students up to proficiency level within 12 years.
Congressional Democrats will continue to push this year to turn funding for special education into an entitlement, meaning Congress would have to reimburse states for 40 percent of the cost of educating disabled students a promise first made in 1975 and never fulfilled.
Mr. Boehner and other Republicans say the special education program needs to be overhauled before the money is guaranteed. The program is up for congressional review this year and Mr. Boehner said it will be a top priority for his committee.


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