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Education Reform Package Faces Criticism

Education Reform Package Faces Criticism
Lawmakers concerned about decrease in education spending

The K-12 education reform package — the subject of intense negotiations on Capitol Hill — is beginning to draw concern from a variety of education advocates, including African American lawmakers.
As House and Senate members move toward a final package, some advocates have concerns that the final bill will not include the money required to meet key challenges and mandates, particularly at a time when the U.S. economy is in a recession.
“The rhetoric of ‘no child left behind’ has been adopted by the mainstream. But rhetoric without funding is meaningless,” says the National Caucus of Black State Legislators, which issued its own education reform blueprint in late November.
Among other objectives, the Black lawmakers are critical of school vouchers and charter schools, and wary of high-stakes testing — a major ingredient of the White House K-12 reform plan. The caucus’ report also wants action to reduce class sizes, something most Republicans object to as a mandate on the federal level.
The report comes as other lawmakers express growing concern about the ability to fully fund education. “Greater federal investment in the nation’s schools is an indispensable part of education reform,” says Sen. Edward M.  Kennedy, D-Mass., one of several lawmakers responding to recent reports showing declines in education spending nationwide.
Largely because of the declining U.S. economy, 47 states have cut more than $10 billion from their 2002 education budgets, House and Senate Democratic leaders say.
It is in this context that senior lawmakers in Congress are trying to wrap up a major K-12 reform bill, rewriting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Already, negotiators have made progress on some issues, agreeing to scale back the number of federal K-12 programs and promoting more flexibility among states.
Based on President Bush’s recommendations, the bill also will call for mandatory annual testing of students in grades third through eighth, with low-performing schools facing possible sanctions. States would get some additional funds to conduct these assessments.
Aside from funding concerns, however, the bill also faces opposition from some mainstream national organizations. The American Association of School Administrators recently charged that the reform plans would bring “overreaching federal control” to education, particularly in evaluating school progress and setting teacher qualifications.
Administrators also are concerned that, under the plan, the federal government would not provide full funding of educational initiatives for disabled children despite federal mandates on services to these children. AASA “regrets to report that we will not support” a final agreement on the K-12 bill.
Most analysts still expect House and Senate negotiators to reach a final agreement on a reform plan, perhaps before the year’s end. As currently written, the plan largely avoids the thorny issue of school vouchers, which was in an earlier Bush administration reform proposal. 

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