- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2003

NEW ORLEANS — National Education Association President Reg Weaver brought 10,000 cheering union members to their feet yesterday with a stem-winding attack on the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind school-reform law, calling it “a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” deception.

The former Illinois science teacher challenged Education Secretary Rod Paige’s characterization of the 2.7-million-member NEA Wednesday as “a coalition of the whining,” and said the nation’s leading teachers union was “riled up” for political action against politicians not in tune with its agenda.

“No Child Left Behind is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is rhetoric, not reform,” Mr. Weaver said in his keynote address to the weeklong convention at the New Orleans convention center.

“Does it rile you up that in response to NEA’s preparation of a lawsuit challenging unfunded mandates imposed by No Child Left Behind, Secretary of Education Rod Paige, in today’s news, claims that NEA wants to assemble a ‘coalition of the whining’ because of our principled criticism of this new law?” he said. “Let me set the record straight to you, Mr. Secretary, and anybody else: We have assembled a coalition of the willing — a coalition of educators committed to ensuring that the promises of this law are kept.”

The union and its teacher members have spent the past six days holding meetings and forums leading up to its annual business meeting, to plan a front-court and legislative attack against the congressional statute initiated by President Bush. The reform measure requires all public school children to be proficient in reading and mathematics at their grade level by June 2014.

The law requires “adequate yearly progress,” as measured by annual state and national tests, and a “highly-qualified” teacher in every classroom by 2006.

Underachieving or failing schools are to be given special funding to reform their teaching methods, but are required to allow children to obtain outside tuition or move to another public school of their choice at state expense.

“It is becoming quite clear that No Child Left Behind is shaping up to be the granddaddy of all underfunded federal mandates,” Mr. Weaver told his cheering audience of schoolteachers and support personnel from every state.

“Reform without resources equals rhetoric … The federal government has dumped the No Child Left Behind program into the laps of the governors, state legislators, and local officials, saying, ‘You pay for our promises.’ And they are saying to you, the ones on the front lines of education, ‘You perform the miracles, or be labeled’” as failures.

“Does it rile you up that Washington’s latest round of tax cuts will leave no millionaire behind, but will actually leave millions of children behind?” he said.

“We will have to organize, mobilize and maximize our members as we have never organized, mobilized and maximized them before. We have to do that,” Mr. Weaver told the convention.

“Team NEA, we would love to stay out of politics and in the classroom, but as long as Washington favors millionaires over children, we have to fight,” he added.

Administration and congressional supporters of the Bush school reforms dispute NEA claims, saying federal funding for elementary and secondary school programs covered by the No Child Left Behind law has increased from $8 billion to $11 billion since Mr. Bush took office in 2001.

But the NEA, pointing to a recent General Accounting Office report to Congress, says the new law will require states to spend an estimated $1.9 billion to $5.3 billion of their own money to implement its testing requirements through 2008.

Mr. Weaver announced that the NEA and its union affiliates in Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Utah and Hawaii are planning a federal lawsuit “to challenge the unfunded mandates imposed on states and school districts … as contrary to the intent of Congress.”

The NEA, in a press statement, said the lawsuit would be based on a provision of the law that stated: “Nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the federal government to … mandate a state or any subdivision thereof to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this act.”

“We have launched a full-court legislative press to fix and fund the new federal law,” Mr. Weaver told NEA members yesterday.

The NEA has sent Congress a list of 47 specific amendments it wants in the law in order to give states and school districts more flexibility in meeting the measure’s requirements.

The NEA convention ends Sunday.

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