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School systems face added costs

President Bush is very interested in establishing a lasting legacy before he leaves office. Given his failures in so many areas, that won't be easy. His foreign affairs record has been a failure, his domestic agenda hasn't been much better. However, there is one area that has been successful and is likely to be cited in future years as a positive. That is the No Child Left Behind Law that has been effective and will long be associated with the Bush administration.

That initiative was launched by Bush but became law as the result of a big lift from Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy. The law has resulted in changes in the educational system in many states. It requires annual testing of students and has dire consequences for schools that fall short of producing positive test results from its students.

Because the law has dire consequences for schools that don't measure up, it has been a success far beyond what its supporters had even thought possible. More than 10,000 schools nationwide are now likely to be designated as failing institutions next year under provisions of the law. It's not a designation any school or school district wants and as a result many are taking steps to avoid that negative impact. Those that fall short face the possibility of forced closure.

School officials throughout the nation have decided that longer school days are needed to meet the demands of the law. They feel that much of the school day must concentrate on test preparation, and only with extra school day hours can they devote more time to test preparation and teach subjects that have been dropped from their curricula over the years.

Let's take a look at what is being done as a consequence of the No Child Left Behind Law. In Massachusetts the governor is allocating $6.5 million for longer school days. In New York, Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer obtained even more education spending than he had sought, bringing the total spending close to $20 billion, and many students are getting additional tutoring. The Buffalo Board of Education has instituted additional steps to help students achieve better test results.

The governor of Connecticut has proposed the lengthening of the school day in failing schools and would do so by raising state spending on education by $3 billion. Pittsburgh has added 45 minutes a day at some of its lowest performing schools and added 10 more days a year to its school year.

These steps add to educational costs for the various states and school districts. In Massachusetts, for example, it is estimated lengthening the school day has cost an estimated $1,300 a day to the cost of educating each student.

School districts and states now are faced with the question of how to finance these additional education costs. It's a serious concern in many of the poorer school districts and states. Kennedy has proposed a $50 million increase in the state education budget to train 40,000 teachers who will help schools redesign the academic calendar to accommodate the content planned for the extra hours of instruction.

While educators for the most part are convinced of the need for longer school days, there are sectors of the population that are not that supportive of current trends. Some teachers have been complaining about the longer school day, saying they are too tired at the end of the current school day to go beyond that time. In Massachusetts, unlike many other states, teachers have received 30 percent pay increases for the extra hours they put in.

Many states cannot afford that type of teacher pay enhancement. Some parents complain that they have problems with the new hours their children have to put in at school.

All of which proves you can't satisfy all of the people all of the time.

Murray B. Light is the former editor of The Buffalo News

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