Advocates Say Bill Leaves Gifted Students Behind
Some advocates for gifted and talented students fear that the Senate version of President Bush's education plan to "leave no child behind" would not help the students with the highest academic ability get ahead.
The plan, which had not yet been approved by the full Senate last week as consideration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization continued, would repeal the only federally funded program related to education of the gifted. Instead, the program would be rolled into a block grant from which state officials could choose to use money for a menu of education programs, including ones for gifted students.
Even though last year the program, called the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Education Program, only meant $7.5 million for research grants—pocket change in a $46.7 billion federal education budget—advocates attach tremendous symbolic value to the money. If it disappears into a block grant, supporters of gifted education contend, it will mean the end of their cause's federal foothold.
Those in gifted education have long felt ignored by the federal government, which does not mandate or pay for programs that directly benefit gifted students, leaving the job to the states and local districts.
Out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, 32 have mandates to identify gifted students, and 29 provide gifted education programs. Twelve states mandate gifted education under the state's special education law, and the rest handle it separately, according to the National Association for Gifted Children, based in Washington.
That situation has led to inconsistent levels of funding and offerings of programs around the country. For example, last year, Texas spent $56 million on gifted education programs, Mississippi spent $26 million, and Massachusetts just $437,970.
Supporters of gifted education worry that if the Javits funding becomes part of a bigger pool, the programs it now pays for will lose out to other priorities. "Everybody always thinks gifted kids will be fine and do OK on their own without any support," said Jane Clarenbach, a lobbyist for the NAGC. "They need and deserve a challenging and appropriate education. If the federal government is going to say it has the responsibility to leave no child behind, that includes those who are more advanced than their age peers."
Don't assume that melding the Javits program into larger block grants will necessarily mean less money for gifted and talented children, said Lindsey Kozberg, the chief spokeswoman for Secretary of Education Rod Paige. In fact, she said, block granting could have the opposite result.
"The Javits program not being continued exemplifies moving away from small categorical programs to a system that lets states and districts address their needs," Ms. Kozberg said. "We are moving away from engineering from Washington. Gifted education funding will essentially be the same. It will disappear as a competitive-grant program. You could argue that states would get more money for the Javits research projects because they would be drawing from a larger pool of money."
The program, run through the Department of Education, awarded 27 grants last year at an average amount of $200,000 each, Ms. Kozberg said.
President Bush's education plan did not propose funding in the fiscal 2002 budget for the Javits program, which awards grants to state and local education agencies, institutions of higher education, and other public and private agencies and organizations for projects that further gifted education.
The program also sponsors a national research center on the education of gifted and talented students, which is located at the University of Connecticut. The center conducts and analyzes research to develop information on the subject, and it acts as an information clearinghouse on gifted and talented programs.
As Mr. Bush and Republican leaders push to consolidate education programs into block grants, meanwhile, a few other GOP lawmakers have proposed not only retaining the Javits program, but also offering $160 million in grants to states that for the first time would specifically pay for gifted education. Similar efforts have been proposed unsuccessfully in the past few years.
Opponents of putting gifted education funding into a block grant have pinned their hopes on an amendment proposed by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., to restore funding for the Javits program. The amendment would also add grant money to states to support programs and services for gifted education, including teacher professional development, other training for teachers, development of curricula for high-ability students, and distance-learning programs.
"I think the education of gifted students is one of the most important and significant education programs we have," Sen. Cochran said. "We do want to encourage excellence. This is one way to reward those who show a willingness to work hard and excel."
House Version Differs
The House version of the ESEA bill that passed overwhelmingly last month would continue the Javits program. But if the Senate version passes with the program absorbed into a block grant, a House-Senate conference committee could choose to go with the Senate version.
And with the larger GOP push for consolidation of small programs, support for continuing the Javits program appears too thin, even in the House. The original version of the bill did not continue the program, but it was reinstated during behind-the-scenes compromises before making it to the House floor for a full vote.
A spokesman for Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the chairman does not oppose consolidation of the Javits program.
Dave Schnittger, the spokesman for Rep. Boehner—who championed the version of the bill that kept the separate Javits program—said he could not predict what would happen to the program in conference. But Mr. Boehner doesn't believe it would hurt if the Javits program were consolidated, Mr. Schnittger said.
"Boehner believes that doing the Javits program on top of this is simply duplicative," Mr. Schnittger said. "While we are satisfied with the overall level of consolidation in HR 1 [the House education bill], we believe there's more left to do."
Since 1989, the Javits program has paid for almost 125 grants that supported pilot programs and practices for talented students nationwide, according to the Education Department. Experts say that about 3 million students nationally have been identified as gifted and talented.
Ms. Kozberg, the spokeswoman for Secretary Paige, said that under the consolidation plan, the schools, universities, or other agencies that wanted to do studies on gifted education would seek the money from their states, which would decide whether to dole it out under the "choice and innovation" block grant.
Michael Swanson, a father of a gifted student, in Franklin, Tenn., said that, overall, he does not think the president's bill provides incentives to meet the educational needs of gifted students.
"The president's bill focuses on bringing low-achieving students up to a minimal proficiency level, and it mandates testing to establish accountability for this goal," he said. "Since there is no accountability for the education of gifted students, there will be few, if any, grants for gifted programs applied for or awarded under the Senate version of the president's bill."
Vol. 20, Issue 40, Pages 21,23