Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Boehner Column: "A Chance to Improve No Child Left Behind"

Five years ago, President Bush signed into law No Child Left Behind at Hamilton High School . This law represents the most sweeping education reform in a generation – an effort to end decades of failed federal education policy that allowed billions of taxpayer dollars to be spent without insisting on results for students, rewards for good teachers, and direct involvement by parents.

Congress is currently working to rewrite this legislation – updating it to continue meeting educational challenges and working to provide states and local school boards more flexibility than the original law allowed in how they can choose to spend federal dollars. We should look at what has worked since No Child Left Behind was first implemented and use those lessons to write a new law that more effectively tracks the reform principles that guided the original bill.

Flexibility and Local Control

Republicans have long believed that states and local school districts should have maximum flexibility in how they spend federal dollars as long as they are willing to commit to increased student achievement. I recently signed on as a supporter of the State and Local Flexibility Improvement Act that allows local entities to transfer up to 100 percent of their dollars among the various federal education funding streams and provide states with additional flexibility in the design of their accountability systems. It is simply unacceptable for us to deny states and school districts this type of freedom and flexibility.

No Loopholes in Accountability

Prior to No Child Left Behind, states accepted billions of dollars each year in federal education aid but were not held accountable for using that money to get academic results for all children. Disadvantaged students were written off as unteachable and shuffled through the system without receiving a quality education. I hope that in writing a new bill, there will be no loopholes for chronically underachieving schools to evade identification as a school in need of improvement or as a school in need of restructuring. As Congress writes legislation to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, we must ensure it is free of loopholes that permit children to fall through the cracks.

School Choice

Before No Child Left Behind, millions of parents were in the dark about how their child’s school was performing – and they had no options if they suspected the school was underachieving. One of the most important reforms brought to federal education policy by No Child Left Behind was that it gave parents a choice. For the first time, parents with children in these schools could use their child’s share of federal dollars to choose a better school and/or secure a private tutor, including one from a faith-based entity.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen right here in Ohio the vehement opposition to giving parents these options with proposals to eliminate educational opportunities for low-income students and a line-item veto used by the Governor to eliminate a choice program for students with disabilities. School choice programs give parents and their children options in education, which should be a common goal for all of us.

Among the proposals in the new law being considered is one that would allow an underachieving school to essentially extend the school day and keep students longer rather than encourage them to seek help from private tutors. This is a flawed idea that would take options away from parents and hurt children who are not getting the education they deserve. Additionally, under current law, a school district must set aside 20 percent of its federal Title I dollars to fund outside tutoring for eligible students. But the revised law that is being drafted would require individual schools to set aside this money. While this may seem like only a subtle change, it could cheat tens of thousands of students out of their right to free tutoring services if the total amount of set-aside funds is limited in this way.

Support for Our Teachers

Our teachers are among the most dedicated professionals, and they deserve our support as they educate our children. Several years ago, Republicans enacted a measure that allows teachers to take a tax deduction for money they spend out of their own pocket on classroom expenses like books and crayons. As Congress considers No Child Left Behind reauthorization, we should also pass legislation making permanent this tax relief, which recognizes the sacrifices teachers make to ensure their students get a quality education.

No New Testing

I oppose adding any new testing mandates that would require states to do more testing than is currently required under federal law. Since implementing No Child Left Behind, I have seen no evidence convincing me that we need to test in additional subjects and in more grade levels. Instead of creating more tests, we should make sure the current system is working as it was intended.

We’ve seen many successes under No Child Left Behind, and our children are better for it. But the law is far from perfect. Congress has an opportunity this year to improve No Child Left Behind to allow greater local control, more parental choice, and additional help for good teachers. I hope we seize it.

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