President Bush used a visit to a Nashville, Tenn., school last week to highlight one of the challenges in the No Child Left Behind Act: making sure parents know about new options that could benefit their children.
He pointed to the 69,000-student Nashville school system as a model for its efforts to reach out to families eligible to receive extra academic help under the statute, including tutoring paid for with a school district’s federal aid.
The Sept. 8 event in Tennessee was one of at least three times earlier this month that the president spotlighted the 2001 federal law, the centerpiece of his education agenda. He discussed the No Child Left Behind Act in his radio address a few days earlier, and again on Sept. 9 at a public school in Jacksonville, Fla.
"[O]ne of the problems we face, obviously not here, but one of the problems we face, is whether or not other school districts are properly advertising that which is available for students that need help,” Mr. Bush told the crowd in Nashville’s Kirkpatrick Elementary School. “We’ve come to Nashville because the superintendent of schools [Pedro E. Garcia] has decided to make it widely known that extra services for children are available. ...”
He was referring to a provision in the law requiring districts whose Title I schools have not made adequate progress on test scores for three years straight to make available supplemental educational services for students from low-income families. Parents get to choose from a range of providers, such as private tutoring companies, nonprofit organizations, and after-school enrichment programs provided by districts.
Some districts reportedly have done little to promote such options to parents, especially options that would involve diverting federal aid from district coffers.
Mr. Bush also called on governors and other leaders to promote the provision to parents.
In Jacksonville, the president joined with the Broad Foundation, a private philanthropy, in announcing about $60 million in funding—most of that coming from the foundation—to help states and school districts comply with the No Child Left Behind Act’s mandates on reporting student performance data. (“President Bush Unveils State Data Collection Effort,” this issue.)
President Bush also took time during each of his recent speeches to defend his budget request for education, which has come under sharp attack from many Democrats in Congress. They contend that Mr. Bush has provided far less than “promised” under the No Child Left Behind law, referring to the amounts authorized for certain programs each year.
For example, the president has requested $12.3 billion for the Title I program for disadvantaged students for the 2004 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The law authorizes $18.5 billion for that budget year, though Republicans have been quick to point out that Congress often doesn’t fully fund the authorized spending levels in many federal programs.
“The budget for next year boosts funding for elementary and secondary education to $53.1 billion,” Mr. Bush said in Nashville. “That’s a 26 percent increase since I took office. In other words, we understand that resources need to flow to help solve the problem.”
However, Mr. Bush’s budget request doesn’t exactly boost education spending next year. The figure he cited of $53.1 billion—the overall proposed discretionary budget for the Department of Education, including money for higher education and other expenses—is just about the same amount Congress approved for fiscal 2003.
Last week, Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, proposed an amendment to increase spending on Title I by some $6 billion above President Bush’s request. The measure was defeated on a procedural motion, 51-44.
“Where is the president?” said Mr. Byrd before the vote. “What happened to his commitment to education? I will tell you what happened. Once the president signed the No Child Left Behind Act and the cameras stopped rolling and the sound bites faded away, the president walked away from the job of funding education.”