Wednesday, August 4, 2004

The Bush administration has issued a booklet declaring that U.S. taxpayers spent more than $500 billion for public schools in the 2003-04 school year, after months of attacks by Democrats and teachers unions who say that federal requirements for school improvement are underfunded.

State and local spending for kindergarten through 12th grade education more than doubled since 1990, while federal taxpayers’ share rose by more than a third to $41.1 billion, or 8.2 percent of total spending in President Bush’s fiscal 2004 budget, according to the booklet being distributed across the country by officials of the Education Department.

Total public-school spending was $501.3 billion, according to the eight-page publication titled “10 Facts About K-12 Education Funding,” which rejects claims of the National Education Association (NEA) in a pending lawsuit that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is an unfunded federal mandate.

“There are no federal education ‘mandates.’ Every federal education law is conditioned on a state’s decision to accept federal program funds,” the publication states. “Any state that does not want to abide by these requirements need not accept the federal grant money.”

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) reauthorized the $25 billion Elementary and Secondary Education Act, whose Title I program this year provided $12.4 billion to local districts to improve academic achievement in high-poverty schools.

“The law’s express purpose is to close the achievement gap through accountability, research-based instruction, flexibility and options for parents so that no child is left behind,” the booklet says.

At last month’s NEA convention, the nation’s largest teachers union launched a national grass-roots campaign to rally public opposition to NCLB and Mr. Bush’s re-election.

Susan Aspey, spokeswoman for Education Secretary Rod Paige, said the department initially printed about 20,000 copies of the booklet at a cost of about $8,400.

“We did it because we had a lot of questions about education funding, both here in D.C. as well as when our folks traveled the country,” she said.

This week, 16 department officials are attending conferences and awarding grants in 15 states.

Criticism of the Bush administration’s spending levels for education programs has been a staple of Democratic rhetoric since the enactment of NCLB.

Rep. George Miller of California, ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee and a supporter of the law, says the administration and Republican majority in Congress should spend an additional $27 billion to fully fund NCLB, while the NEA calls for an additional $81 billion.

Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and committee chairman, says Title I spending has increased $3.6 billion, or 42 percent, since January 2002.

“We are pumping gas into a flooded engine,” he said.

“The federal government has increased federal education spending so rapidly that many states haven’t even been able to spend down the money we appropriated for them two years ago.”

At the beginning of this year, according to a House committee report, states were “sitting on $5.75 billion in federal education funding, including nearly $2 billion in Title I aid from fiscal years 2000 through 2002.”

Political fighting over the size of federal school-funding increases has drawn strong criticism from conservative education-policy analysts.

“Despite the huge infusion of federal cash and the near tripling of overall per-pupil funding since 1965, national academic performance has not improved,” said Neal McCluskey of the libertarian Cato Institute.

“Math and reading scores have stagnated, graduation rates have flat-lined, and researchers have shown numerous billion-dollar federal programs to be failures,” Mr. McCluskey wrote in a Cato report last month titled “A Lesson in Waste: Where Does All the Federal Education Money Go?”

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