The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held an April 23 hearing on the implementation of the Leave No Child Behind Act (P.L. 107-110) signed into law last year (see The Source, 12/14/01 and 12/20/01). The law renewed the federal education programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. This hearing was the first in a series of oversight hearings on the new education law.
In his opening statement, Committee Chair Edward Kennedy (D-MA) said that the Leave No Child Behind Act would “make a difference to students only if it is implemented well.” He stressed the need for fairness, public engagement and increased resources in the process of putting the new law into effect, and criticized the funding levels in the President’s FY2003 budget for education. “Even with last year’s increases, the funding for the Title I program still leaves behind 6 million needy children,” he said. “I am deeply concerned that the Administration’s budget for next year proposes to cut funding for public school reform and diverts resources to private schools,” he added.
Sen. Gregg Judd (R-NH) disagreed, saying that “the dollars put in by the President should be enough to cover the new education programs.” He added that the new law rightly “focuses on those students who need the most help,” and that the President would provide $11.4 billion for Title I programs for the disadvantaged. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) called the Leave No Child Behind Act “landmark” legislation “that had been a truly bipartisan effort.” She expressed her hope that the “bipartisan approach” would be continued, but said that she, too, was “disappointed that the Administration does not provide sufficient funding” for education programs.
Eugene Hickok of the Department of Education testified on the progress made in implementing the new law. He was accompanied by Susan Neumann, also of the department.
Mr. Hickok told the committee that the new law is based on four key principles: increased accountability for results, increased choices for parents and students, greater flexibility for states and local school systems, and a “focus on what works.” Highlighting the complexity of the legislation, he said there are “1,560 discreet tasks this Department has to deal with.”
“Our guiding principle in implementing the No Child Left Behind Act is to regulate only when absolutely necessary, because non-regulatory guidance tends to provide states and local educational agencies with greater flexibility,” he testified.
Outlining some of the provisions in the law, Mr. Hickok said that the Act requires annual tests in reading and math for students in grades 3-8 and greatly expands the flexibility of the states to use federal funds to meet state and local needs and priorities. Parents of children in failing schools can transfer their children to better-performing schools and enlist the aid of tutors or send their children to after-school or summer school programs using federal funds.
States and local school systems must implement programs “that reflect scientifically-based research,” he said, “particularly in the area of reading.” Describing the Reading First literacy initiative, he explained, “All states will be eligible to receive formula grants for implementation of programs of scientifically-based reading instruction, particularly in schools where high percentages of students are not learning to read.” Early Reading First “is a companion program,” designed to prepare pre-schoolers for reading once they enter school, he added.
During the question and answer period, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) repeated concerns previously expressed by his colleagues regarding the President’s budget. It’s “a paltry commitment financially to elementary and secondary education,” he said. “We’re actually looking at a 2 percent reduction. We should be giving help to our schools and not orders, but obviously we’re issuing orders,” he added.
“We want to be full partners with the states,” said Mr. Hickok.
“What about professional development?” asked Sen. Dodd, citing that “78 percent of all women with school-age children are in the workplace.” He added, “There are a staggering number of children not ready to learn, and no one is interested in quality child care.” He repeated, “No one wants to talk about the 14 million children in child care.”
“I think we are doing a lot,” responded Ms. Neuman. “We are now talking about the whole child,” she said, adding, “So often we have talked about the child care provider and not the teacher. We have to bring those areas together and look at early childhood education in a much broader way.”
Mr. Hickok pointed out, “We do know what works in early childhood cognitive education, but we don’t do what works.”
Moving back in history, Sen. James Jeffords (I-VT) cited a report by Terrence Bell, the Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan, called A Nation at Risk. Since that time, “we have done little to improve the costs of education,” said Sen. Jeffords. “Are we setting ourselves up for failure?” he asked. “The last time we helped our schools was in 1948 when we put 11 percent of the budget into education,” said Sen. Jeffords, pointing out that this year we put only “1.5 percent of the federal budget into education.”
“We have spent a lot of money on education, and we’re still a nation at risk,” agreed Mr. Hickok. “In addition to resources, we now have the wisdom with which to use those resources,” he said, adding that, “Schools could do a much better job,” and “with accountability in place, we’ll know better where the needs are.”