No Child Left Behind Program Approved
It was a big victory for students, parents and educators when a final version of President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” education reform plan was agreed to by House and Senate negotiators last week. This legislation will usher in a new era of federal involvement and, more important, cooperation in our country’s system of primary and secondary education.
There are so many new and innovative aspects to this measure that it is almost impossible to list them all. It will enhance accountability and demand results from local schools, but in return provide unprecedented state and local flexibility and eliminate bureaucracy and red tape. It gets more money out of Washington and into local classrooms by requiring that 95% of money in federal grant programs be spent at the local level. The bill seeks more and better teachers, but provides parents with more options when failing schools don’t improve.
I cannot tell you how excited I am that the final version of this bill includes a pilot program that Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware and I developed, aimed at allowing local schools more flexibility in using federal education money. Our provision would allow up to 150 school districts across the country to combine funding from four separate federal education programs to address unique local learning needs.
As I said when the House first approved our proposal in May, local flexibility plus local accountability equals results. Local school officials know the challenges they face, know how to develop solutions and deserve flexibility from Washington to implement them.
Our proposal works as follows:
It would allow up to 150 local flexibility “demonstration projects” to be established across the nation. Local school districts choosing to participate would receive a virtual waiver from federal education rules and requirements associated with a variety of education programs in exchange for signing an “accountability contract” with the Secretary of Education, in which the school district would agree to improve student achievement.
Eligible programs would include teacher quality, technology, Safe & Drug-Free Schools, and the Innovative Programs Block Grant.
Local school districts could use funds for any educational activity currently authorized under H.R. 1.
The conference committee actually improved on our original proposal by expanding it. As first approved, only 100 districts, two in each state, could participate. Now, another 50 school systems will be included and there are no restrictions as to how many each state is allowed.
Passage of this education reform bill was President Bush’s number 1 domestic priority, and his commitment never lessened, even after the terrorist attacks of September 11. You might recall that he even visited Columbus to push his plan late last winter. Likewise, House Education Committee Chairman John Boehner worked tirelessly for months to shepherd this bill through the legislative process. The result of their vision and hard work is the dawn of a new day for public education, a new day that I hope will lead to a brighter future for our schools and students alike.