Thursday, July 10, 2003

Education: Leave no child behind

Don't cave to lawsuit

Now that accountability for classroom results is about to take hold under the federal "No Child Left Behind" law, the nation's largest teachers union aims to sue to have the law thrown out or neutered.

The National Education Association routinely claims it represents the nation's best interests in education reform. What a shame it is that it is spending time and money to undo a law that sets high standards for students and schools.

"We're going after this law," NEA lawyer Robert Chanin told USA Today. They hope to recruit state legislators, school districts and local teachers unions to join the lawsuit against the federal government.

NEA officials opposed the far-reaching law all along. But Congress passed it and President Bush signed it into law in January 2002. Now, all 50 states have compliance plans in place. Most of its requirements, including mandatory reading and math tests in grades three through eight, take effect over the next several years. Schools must provide free tutoring or transfers to other schools for students who repeatedly fail the tests.

NEA officials claim these amount to unfunded mandates, for which states can't be forced to pay.

Unfunded? Hardly.

Federal taxpayers are expected to spend $35.7 billion this school year on elementary and secondary education. That's more than $7 billion above last year. More increases are on track for 2004.

As a result of NCLB, the federal government is now spending far more money for elementary and secondary education that at any other time in American history.

"Most of the money goes to the poorest students," said Ohio Republican Rep. John Boehner, chairman of the House Education & Workforce Committee, and congressional leader on No Child Left Behind.

"This (law) most affects those kids who've been shuffled through the system for decades and those in charge have had no answer on how we get them an education. We're finally requiring answers and accountability."

Yes, finally, along with record spending, we have a law that demands results for the money. For at least 20 years, federal legislators have attempted well-meaning reform, but it usually fizzles when it gets too hard or contentious.

Not this time, promise Boehner and others. "We're going to spend $35.7 billion on education this year and excuse me for asking for results," he said. "The kids who've too long been left behind deserve the same education as others."

No Child Left Behind is on their side. Protecting the adult status quo, as NEA wants the courts to do, robs too many children of opportunity. It's indefensible.

Washington should maintain its resolve to enforce this important law.

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