President Bush's recent State of the Union speech contained many broad proposals, including a continued emphasis on the No Child Left Behind Act -- but once again, the president failed to indicate how to pay for any improvements.
The act, passed in 2002, has suffered from shortfalls in funding and planning. Currently, federal funding is roughly 8 percent to 9 percent of the total cost of elementary and secondary education. States provide roughly 50 percent and school districts make up the rest, but it varies widely by state. The No Child Left Behind Act imposed strict directives on states, without doing much to increase the level of federal aid to carry out those mandates.
Congress should take note. If No Child Left Behind is to be reauthorized, as needed, the national government should bring more resources to the table. If the president wants reauthorization done on his watch and as part of his legacy, he should work with people on both sides of the aisle to increase funding.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., now chairman of the Senate Education Committee, long has been a proponent of increased funding and, along with Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education Committee, has the greatest opportunity to make that happen. Newer members are more keenly interested in actual changes to the legislation.
Spending more money on test development probably is unnecessary because most states already have developed their own tests, the Washington-based Education Trust notes, although the lowest-performing schools that have been working on that with inadequate resources still may need some help.
Teachers also need more resources and assistance, along with more support in the areas of curriculum, lessons, units and professional development. And there's also the matter of extended learning time for students -- recently also suggested by Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer -- that would mean longer school days or years.
The president's State of the Union call reopened the debate. Both parties must work toward a reauthorization that includes adequate help as well as demanding standards.