In every legislative struggle, ideological boundaries inevitably emerge. Factions of conservative and liberal lawmakers and their allies define the right and left walls of the debate. The forthcoming battle over the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB)—President Bush's signature education reform—is no exception.
Five years after its passage, the frustration with NCLB has grown and spans the ideological spectrum. In 2006, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget, state and local education bureaucrats spent 6.7 million hours and more than $140 million complying with NCLB paperwork. This has angered just about everyone—state lawmakers, state and local education officials, teachers' unions, parents and education policy experts on both the left and the right.
Criticism From the States
Legislatures in states such as Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico and Virginia passed resolutions criticizing NCLB's rigid testing and proficiency requirements. Colorado and Utah clarified that their education laws take precedence over those enacted in Washington. School districts even forfeited federal funds rather than comply with NCLB.
Last year, the National Education Association reported that 69% of its members found fault with NCLB. At the other end of the ideological spectrum, conservative education reformers believe it is time to reestablish the natural pre-eminent role for parents, states and localities in the education of our children.
With committee hearings underway and the legislative process set to begin, let's examine the contours of the debate.
The Left Wall: Rep. George Miller (D.-Calif.) and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D.-Mass.), who chair the House and Senate education committees, personify the liberal view. They seek to exponentially increase the level of federal education funding, as well as its reach. Kennedy wants to increase the salaries of principals and teachers, extend the school day, and saturate schools with AmeriCorps volunteers, parent-family outreach coordinators, and "community programs that address children's social, emotional and other non-academic needs."
On NCLB, Kennedy believes that "President Bush ... short-changed the promise made in the law by nearly $56 billion" and wants Congress to make up this alleged shortfall through increased spending. (Reality check: Between 2001 and 2006 federal spending on No Child Left Behind programs jumped by 33%, from $17.4 billion in 2001 to $23.3 billion in 2007. There was no commensurate increase in student test scores.)