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Bipartisan education reform is the cornerstone of President Bush's Administration.
The quality of our public schools directly affects us all as parents, as students, and as citizens. Yet too many children in America are segregated by low expectations, illiteracy, and self-doubt. In a constantly changing world that demands increasingly complex skills from its work force, children are being left behind.
Today, nearly 70 percent of low-income fourth graders are unable to read at a basic level on national reading tests. Our high school seniors trail students in most industrialized nations on international math tests. And nearly a third of our college freshmen find they must take a remedial course before they are able to even begin regular college level courses.
The President's agenda for education reform serves as a framework for common action, encouraging all of us—Democrat, Republican, and Independent—to work in concert to strengthen our elementary and secondary schools, to build the mind and character of every child, from every background, in every part of America.
Bipartisan solutions are within our reach. The way forward to reform involves a series of education initiatives aimed at creating a culture of achievement that leaves no child behind—proposals intended to reform the Nation's public schools by:
Encouraging States to raise standards;
Holding schools accountable for improving student achievement;
Restoring local control; and
Empowering parents with choices from before schooling begins to college and beyond.
The President's first budget translates those principles into programs. (See Chart 3–1.)
The President believes that while the Federal Government properly plays a partnership role in the education of our children, education remains primarily a State and local government responsibility. The Federal Government should use the comparatively small amount of its investment in elementary and secondary education—approximately seven percent—to encourage systemic education reform in the States.
Three aims guide the Federal effort:
For States: flexibility in directing education and saving resources, in exchange for accountability through measurable results;
For schools, principals, and teachers: autonomy and local control, in exchange for accountability; and
For parents: information and options, to enable them to provide the best possible education for their children.
The President's education reform plan has six core components, each aimed at advancing the objective of quality education for all American children:
Research indicates that reading is the gateway to all learning. Given the importance of reading to a student's ultimate educational success, the President considers it a national tragedy that nearly 70 percent of low-income fourth-graders cannot read at grade level. This is especially tragic since research has identified reading instruction methods that work.
The President proposes a Reading First reform agenda, aimed at intervening early to build the strong reading skills all children need to succeed. The President's agenda will:
Establish the Reading First program—an investment of $5 billion over five years to ensure that every child in America can read by third grade, with special emphasis on intervention efforts aimed at children in kindergarten through second grade who are at risk of falling behind;
Reform Head Start, by making school readiness—pre-reading and numeracy skills—Head Start's top priority, and begin to plan the move of Head Start to the Department of Education to strengthen this new emphasis; and
Support an early childhood reading initiative to help prepare young children to read in existing pre-school and Head Start programs.
The President approaches education with two bedrock beliefs in mind: all children can learn, and no child should be left behind. Unfortunately, the children most often hurt by weak standards, limited opportunities and "the soft bigotry of low expectations" are the least advantaged among us: children whom the Federal Government has a special obligation to help—low-income or minority children, as well as those with limited English proficiency.
For 35 years, the primary source of Federal K-12 education funding has been the Title I program. The goal of Title I—eliminating the achievement gap separating low-income and minority students from their peers—remains as compelling as the day the law was signed; the failure of the traditional Title I approach, however, proves that Federal reform is long overdue.
Since 1990, we have spent nearly $90 billion in the Title I program and yet achievement scores have remained generally stagnant.
Despite spending billions of dollars on education, we have fallen short in meeting our goals for educational excellence. The academic achievement gap between rich and poor, Anglo and minority is not only wide, but in some cases is growing wider still.
To increase standards of excellence for all students, the President proposes a bold and ambitious Federal approach to education, granting States and local schools unprecedented freedom from Federal regulation—in exchange for accountability for results.
Accountability without the means to measure achievement is an empty promise. The President believes that schools must have clear, measurable goals focused on foundation skills and essential knowledge. There must be annual testing to ensure those goals are being met. Results should be broken down by student group, and published in school-by-school report cards.
Finally, without consequences for failure, there is no pressure to succeed. For that reason, an "accountability principle" requires that Federal reward funds should flow to States and schools that improve student achievement, and consequences should be imposed on those whose performance stagnates or declines.
Accountability must be accompanied by local control, in both measures and means. Responsibility for developing assessments should reside with States and local communities.
States will be given more freedom in directing Federal education dollars in exchange for creating a comprehensive system of accountability, including regular measurement of student achievement (annual State assessments in all grades 3–8 broken down by student group) and regular public reporting of those results;
A new fund will reward States and schools that improve student performance, while a portion of Federal administrative funding will be withdrawn from States that permit student performance to decline;
To restore local control, the President proposes to consolidate many Federal programs within five flexible categories, allowing States to direct funds towards major priorities; and
Educational technology programs will be strengthened and better coordinated to be used as a tool to boost student achievement.
The President believes that parents are the most important enforcers of accountability in education, because no parent—given the option—would willingly keep her or his child in an under-performing school. Yet only when parents are armed with information can they press for change. To accurately assess school performance, parents must be armed with the best possible information, as well as options and resources to ensure their child has the opportunity to achieve educational excellence.
To help empower parents, the President's reform plan proposes the following programs:
To arm parents with information, all States will be required to publish school-by-school report cards, and make those report cards available via the Internet;
To expand school choice, parents of students trapped in chronically failing schools will have the option of transferring to another public school that is making adequate educational progress—or using their share of Federal Title I funds to seek supplemental educational services or private school alternatives;
To expand charter school options, the Federal Government will provide seed capital to assist charter schools with start-up costs and other needs;
To help parents offset the increasing costs of education, existing Education Savings Accounts will be expanded, increasing the annual contributions limit from $500 to $5,000—and allowing funds to be withdrawn tax free to pay educational expenses from kindergarten through college; and
To encourage parents to save early for college, a full tax exemption will be available for all qualified pre-paid tuition and savings plans.
The President believes that as Government asks more of teachers, it must do more to help teachers reach higher goals. To that end, the President's Budget includes proposals to ease and encourage the entry of skilled professionals into teaching, to improve teacher training, to help teachers enforce discipline in the classroom, and to treat teachers more fairly.
The President's quality in the classroom initiatives include:
Consolidating and increasing funds for teacher training and recruiting into a $2.6 billion fund that provides States the flexibility to improve teacher quality while ensuring increased accountability;
Expanding existing student loan forgiveness limits from $5,000 to $17,500 for math and science majors who teach those subjects in high-need schools for five years;
Increasing funds for the Troops-to-Teachers transition program to $30 million, to encourage former military personnel to continue their public service in America's classrooms;
Establishing a tax deduction for teachers, allowing the deduction of up to $400 dollars in out-of-pocket classroom expenses; and
Supporting math and science partnerships among States, universities, and school districts to improve math and science K-12 education.
The President believes that comprehensive education reform includes renewed emphasis on character development, and a commitment to ensure school safety. To achieve these goals, the President's proposal seeks to streamline two complementary programs, Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities and 21st Century Community Learning Centers, and create State formula grants for before- and after-school learning opportunities and for violence and drug prevention activities. Though moral education properly begins at home, parents have the right to expect schools to be allies in the attempt to instill good character, not value-free zones where students' physical and moral well being is at risk. To meet this challenge, the President proposes initiatives to:
Require States to measure and improve school safety—and to provide students in chronically dangerous schools with the option to transfer to a safe school;
Establish "Project Sentry" to prosecute juveniles who carry or use guns, as well as the adults who provide them;
Improve discipline by requiring schools to strengthen teachers' ability to enforce order in the classroom by enacting a Teacher Protection Act to shield teachers from meritless lawsuits;
Triple Federal character education funding, and expand the role of faith-based and community organizations in after-school programs; and
Help parents obtain safe, supervised after-school care with a high-quality educational focus through after-school certificates.
The President believes that the Federal Government has a special obligation to certain schools—those schools that educate the children of families who serve in the U.S. military and those that educate Native American children. However, the Federal obligation to these schools has not always been met—most notably in the area of school construction. The President's proposal includes initiatives to help support school construction and renovation by:
Eliminating the Bureau of Indian Affairs' school repair and maintenance backlog by 2006, while replacing older and more dilapidated schools;
Increasing funding for the Impact Aid construction program by $62 million to improve the quality of public school buildings and eliminate the backlog of repairs and construction for schools on or near military facilities and those serving children from Native American lands.
In addition, the President proposes to help local school districts meet school construction demands by allowing State private activity bonds to be used for school construction and repair.
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