- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2007

Some National School Boards Association (NSBA) members yesterday booed Education Secretary Margaret Spellings when she mentioned the administration’s proposal to help students in chronically failing public schools attend private ones instead.

Sandra Nichols, a member of the Pajaro Valley Unified School Board in Watsonville, Calif., asked Mrs. Spellings to respond to critics who think the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) already is “an effort to privatize our school system” by setting tough standards and then deeming public schools as failing.

“I reject completely … that this is an effort to privatize American education,” Mrs. Spellings responded, arguing the goal of the law, which is up for renewal, is to ensure that each child receives a good education.

A delegate from Detroit told Mrs. Spellings that when it comes to charter and private-school policy, “you should leave that decision up to the states.” He also complained NCLB law is “woefully underfunded.”

The fight over how best to renew the five-year-old law — one of President Bush’s major domestic accomplishments — has begun. Today, NSBA members will walk the halls of Congress, lobbying for more funding and flexibility to help teachers meet the law’s tough standards for testing students and making progress.

Many of NSBA’s delegates, about a 1,000 of whom are attending its Federal Relations Network Conference, say NCLB is overly burdensome and unrealistic — requiring even special-education students and those who speak little English to reach the same standards as other students.

Mrs. Spellings assured the crowd that the administration supports more flexibility for schools in how they measure and track student progress.

There are some clear areas of agreement among all parties, including speeding up the tutoring and other extra help for struggling students.

But funding seems to be the looming battle. The NSBA’s own proposal for renewing the law includes about 40 changes to it and a $2.5 billion increase for Title 1, which funds low-income elementary schools. The NSBA proposal is being sponsored on Capitol Hill by Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican, who was honored at a NSBA luncheon yesterday.

Senate education panel Chairman Edward M. Kennedy told NSBA members yesterday that he’ll fight for incentives to attract teachers to the neediest schools, extended school days and other creative alternatives for struggling schools, high school reform and of course increased funding.

“We cannot reform our schools and move forward — on a tin-cup budget,” the Massachusetts Democrat told an applauding crowd.

But some listeners were still skeptical and unhappy that Mr. Kennedy didn’t pledge a specific amount or lay out a plan for how to secure the money.

“He never once said where the money is coming from,” complained Kathryn DeYoung, vice president of Michigan’s Godwin Heights School Board. “He was full of good kudos … but he never hit the bottom-line issue.”

When asked why, she surmised, “He’s playing both sides.”

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