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Paige, Kennedy on No Child Left Behind Act
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Both U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy agree on the need for education reform, but they differ on whether funding is sufficient. Included: Paige's and Kennedy's views on implementing the federal education bill.


Speaking last week before education writers from across the country, U.S. Secretary of Education Roderick Paige and U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy agreed on the need for education reform but differed in their views on the government's commitment to funding it.


Secretary of Education Rod Paige addresses the 2002 Education Writers Association conference.
(Education World photo)
Paige told attendees at the 55th annual Education Writers Association conference in Washington, D.C., that the federal No Child Left Behind Act is the most critical step toward educational accountability and improvement in decades.

The act is historic, according to Paige, because it calls for sweeping changes in the education structure and recognizes that "you can't just buy your way out of the problem."

Kennedy, however, a Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and who delivered the Martin Buskin Memorial Lecture, said that President Bush's administration is not making a sufficient financial commitment to educational reform. He called on Bush and Congress to postpone tax breaks slated to take effect in 2004 and allocate more money to the education budget.

"President Bush's budget [that covers the next academic year] provides only a 2.8 percent increase [for education] -- not even enough to keep up with inflation," said Kennedy. "He cuts funding for the new schools reform legislation by $90 million. This is the wrong direction for schools. It's the wrong direction for students. And it's the wrong direction for the nation. It is not enough to promise reform -- we must pay for it as well."

AGREEMENT ON REFORM NEED

Both men agreed, though, on the need for reforms the act addresses. Kennedy participated in discussions about the bill's contents, and other Democrats support it, which Paige noted.

"The bipartisan support makes it easier to support this," said Paige. "This is not a Republican bill, this is not a Democratic bill, it's an American bill."


U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy
(Photo courtesy of Senator Edward Kennedy's office)
Kennedy echoed that sentiment in his address. "When President Bush came to the White House, we saw eye-to-eye on two core principles of education reform. We both wanted to target funds to the neediest communities. And we both wanted to improve achievement for all children. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was bipartisan from beginning to end."

The $22.5 billion No Child Left Behind Act, signed by Bush in January, is the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary School Education Act of 1965, the federal government's education allocation.

For more information about the bill, see another Education World article, No Child Left Behind: What It Means to You.

With Americans citing education as their top priority, and because of the many requirements for schools and states in No Child Left Behind, Congress should delay tax breaks aimed at higher-income brackets, Kennedy said. Spending for education currently makes up only 1.5 percent of the federal budget, according to Kennedy.

The senator also called for additional federal funding for early childhood education and higher education.

Paige, though, when told of Kennedy's remarks about funding, said that in the past, simply allocating more money for schools has not improved learning.

"Clearly, resources are important, but I continue to run into people who say we can spend our way out of this [low student achievement]," Paige said. "I'm frustrated that the connection between spending and performance is so intense. Who is responsible for all those expenditures without results? It is useless to spend more money if the system itself is not sound."

PUTTING THE PUBLIC BACK IN PUBLIC EDUCATION

Because the bill provides parents with more information about their schools, it provides more educational and financial accountability, Paige noted. "The big difference now is that taxpayers know what they are getting for their money. We have as a goal to connect the public back to the public schools."

The act includes provisions to allow parents to transfer a child from a school rated as "failing" to higher-performing school in the district. The first list of failing schools could be due by fall, and Paige was asked how school districts would be able to juggle transporting students to different schools. He agreed that transportation "is a real concern."

When asked how student transfers could affect racial balances in some schools, Paige responded that the chance for students to attend moreeffective schools is more important. "I don't think you've gained much if you have racial balance but still don't have excellence in instruction," the secretary said. "You don't gain if you tie students to failing schools."

Paige added that he is confident the No Child Left Behind Act will bring overdue results. "This is really critical, and we have to get this right this time. This is not a dress rehearsal only."