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Debate Postponed in Congress on Bush's Education Plan.

Conflict over funding initiatives led the Senate to postpone bringing President George W. Bush's education plan to the floor last week. Weeks of negotiations between Senate Democrats and White House aides has led to an agreement on most of the policy changes that have been proposed by both Republicans and Democrats. However, the amount of money that the federal government should spend to improve schools and implement necessary reforms remains a sticking point.

The Bush administration has submitted its proposals for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which are incorporated in H.R. 1, the "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001."

The Senate version of ESEA reauthorization, the "Better Education for Students and Teachers Act", (S. 1), was unanimously supported by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions late last month. The White House has backed off on several of its more controversial education proposals, including vouchers and allowing states to receive education funding as a block grant, but the differences between the House and Senate versions of ESEA reauthorization still threaten to prolong the education debate.

The Democrats continue to push for $250 billion in new education spending over the next decade, more than 10 times the amount proposed by the president. Title I, the federal government's main remedial education program for poor and disadvantaged children, would be increased by $9.1 billion next year in the Bush plan, but Democrats say it should be increased by $15 billion to reach the two-thirds of eligible schools that are not currently funded.

Full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) at the 40 percent federal commitment level is proposed in the Senate version, but is only funded at 16.5 percent in the president's proposal. This perpetual shortfall in full federal support for IDEA has imposed an unfunded mandate on cities and states for 25 years.

Title I portability for children in "consistently failing schools," the heart of the voucher debate, is still provided for in the House version of the reauthorization. On the Senate side, the White House and Senate Democrats have reached a compromise on allowing students in failing schools to use federal money to receive private tutoring. The Senate version also continues and increases funding for urgent school repairs, modernization grants, and class size reduction programs while the president's plan and the House version eliminate federal funding for these programs.

Overall, both versions of the bill provide an increased federal role in education with a movement toward more flexibility and accountability. Both sides are looking to expand annual testing, with some fighting for mandatory uniform national testing and others seeking more flexibility at the state and local level. Funding to establish professional development programs for teachers is proposed in both versions, but the level of support is significantly higher in the Senate version.

NLC supports the increased federal funding that is proposed in the Senate version of the ESEA reauthorization bill. The House version makes cuts in numerous programs that are vital for strengthening our nation's schools. NLC is working with both sides to ensure that important local education issues like full funding for Title I and IDEA, grants for school repairs, and class size reduction programs are addressed in the reauthorization of the ESEA.
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Title Annotation:'No Child Left Behind Act'
Author:Kocher, Daniel
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 30, 2001
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