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Amendment Seeks ‘Comparable’ Education for Rich, Poor Students

Amendment Seeks ‘Comparable’ Education for Rich, Poor Students
Connecticut senator’s plan focuses on education funding inequities

For many civil rights advocates, debate on the Bush education reform plan has boiled down to one central issue — whether all children, rich and poor, within a state can have equal educational opportunity.
The issue appears simple on the surface but it is potentially explosive politically. Congressional Black Caucus members and others want assurances that each child, regardless of race or income, can get a “comparable” educational opportunity. But having rich and poor children receive a comparable education could mean major changes throughout the education pipeline. Republican leaders vehemently oppose such a plan, saying it would open the door to undue state and federal oversight of local school systems.
The topic may hold up final approval of Bush’s education bill, which includes more funding for K-12 education as well as new partnerships between schools and colleges. The comparable education plan also has the support of groups such as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National Urban League and the National Council of La Raza.
The issue is part of an amendment by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., to focus on education funding inequities in a state. His plan notes that children should have “comparable” access to education within a state — much like federal law now requires rich and poor children to receive comparable education within their school districts.
“Many children, simply by the accident of their birth, have a disparate level of educational opportunity,” Dodd says. “Since 1965, we have mandated comparable educational opportunity for students within school districts,” he says. The new amendment simply states there should be “comparable educational opportunity throughout the state.”
But even the most affluent state has pockets of poverty, and guaranteeing a level playing field for all children in a state has implications on curriculum, class sizes, teacher training and even teacher contracts, critics say.
“You can’t do collective bargaining statewide,” says Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. And while all schools want students proficient in math or science, “how they get their children up to that level of competency is left up to the school district.”
But the issue hits home with many Congressional Black Caucus members and others who have fought for more equal K-12 funding within their states. Some of these issues have spilled over into the courts, pitting low-income areas against more affluent counties in states that have a large property tax base.
“If poor kids do not have certified teachers, if they don’t have updated textbooks, if their class sizes are twice as large and their school districts are underfunded, then why ask for test results that are clearly skewed?” says Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa. “If students do not have comparable opportunities, they will not have comparable results.
“There is no one anywhere who would say that rural and urban school districts receive comparable resources with our wealthier suburban districts. Yet we want to have the same standards.”
Critics say the plan would lead to excessive federal influence. If, for example, different states cannot provide the same level of education services, the next step would be for the federal government to mandate more spending in a state and even transfers of funds between states, Gregg says.
Further debate on the plan is expected this month. For more information, contact Sen. Dodd’s office at (202) 224-2823. 

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