- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2008

President Bush yesterday said schools are improving under his much-debated No Child Left Behind Act, which turns six years old today, and he urged Congress to renew it, pledging to veto any bill that weakens the law’s accountability for schools.

“I believe this country needs to build upon the successes,” Mr. Bush told an assembly at the Horace Greeley Elementary School in Chicago, which he touted as a school that embraced the law’s accountability and raised its test scores over the past several years.

“Now is the time for Congress to reauthorize it,” he said of the 2002 law, adding, however: “If Congress passes a bill that weakens the accountability system in the No Child Left Behind Act, I will strongly oppose it and veto it.”

The law requires states to test and track students in reading and math, and holds schools accountable if they don’t make adequate yearly progress. Critics, including teachers unions, argue that it treats struggling schools far too harshly, and have pushed for more funding and a loosening of its requirements.

“The law needs to be overhauled,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said yesterday.

Mr. Bush has proposed some new flexibility, such as allowing a new way of measuring student achievement, but generally doesn’t go as far as critics would like.

The law’s provisions will continue in effect even if Congress fails to act this year. But for Mr. Bush, who has touted the law as one of his signature domestic accomplishments, it’s the last opportunity to strengthen it before he leaves office.

“It’s vulnerable,” said Kevin Carey, research and policy manager of Education Sector, an education think tank. “Significant interest groups have lined up against it, and I think he’d like to solidify that legacy before he leaves office.”

Last year, efforts in Congress to renew the law sputtered before they officially began, but key Democrats have vowed to try again this year to rewrite it.

Senate education panel Chairman Edward M. Kennedy, who helped Mr. Bush craft the law but has since strongly criticized a lack of funding, wants to introduce a revised bill in early spring, a spokeswoman said.

“We can’t abandon the law’s focus on helping every one of our students compete and win in this global economy. But it’s clear that the law still needs major changes,” the Massachusetts Democrat said yesterday. “We owe it to children, parents and schools to get it done this year and to get it right.”

Meanwhile, a federal appeals court yesterday revived a lawsuit filed by the National Education Association and several school districts that argues the education law is an unfunded mandate and schools shouldn’t have to comply with requirements that aren’t funded, the Associated Press reported. A lower court dismissed the lawsuit in 2005, but the appeals court yesterday reversed that decision.

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