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Caving in the face of union politics

By Nancy Salvato
web posted September 11, 2006

Although federal money accounts for less than 10% of the cost of public education, as part of NCLB, schools that accept these tax dollars are to be held accountable for each subgroup of students making adequate yearly progress in their education or face sanctions.  To avoid sanctions, some states have made a mockery of the law by administering measures of progress in which the local results are not in line with national indicators, yet on which AYP is based and found in compliance.   Other states have made headlines for saying they are better off rejecting federal funding for all the headaches and additional costs involved in testing.  Regardless, in the states which have accepted this money, students found to be enrolled in failing educational institutions have not been given legitimate opportunity to transfer to the best available school, public or private.  They've often had to settle for additional services to make up for gaps in instruction because the best learning environment is not always an option. 

Originally, NCLB was intended to break the class barrier by allowing poorer families vouchers, access to the tax dollars earmarked for failing public schools so they could transfer their kids to a public or private school of their own choosing.  That section of the law was omitted from the final version because Teddy Kennedy, and others beholden to the NEA (fully funded by tax dollars used to pay teachers, whose contracts they negotiate often in favor of administration), refused to sign legislation which might break the union's sway over education taxes; using the tired argument that the separation between church and state must be upheld. Instead, parents were only given the option to transfer their kids within the public school system, maintaining its monopoly on tax dollars. Still, people who use vouchers to send their children to private schools are not being forced to practice a religion by our government and that has been upheld by the courts.  

Therefore, the current administration has decided it is time to give parents real educational options. On July 18, Congress introduced the America's Opportunity Scholarships for Kids Act.    If passed, states, school districts and nonprofit organizations could compete for $100 million in grant money being awarded by the U.S. Department of Education in fiscal year 2007.  These local education agencies would, in turn, provide scholarships of up to $4,000 to children from low-income families enrolled in persistently low-performing schools; so to allow them the means to transfer to a private school of their choice. In addition, up to $3,000 could be awarded for tutoring services if they choose to stay at their school.

It could be argued that $4000.00 is not enough money for students to transfer out of public school into private school.  The cost of educating a child is often over $10,000 a year in the public schools.  Catholics are a charitable group, though, and often supplement the cost of their educational institutions.  It could be argued that the public should not have to bear the cost of additional education dollars being doled out by the federal government, however, upon last examination, it was the Bush administration's intention to pay for the cost of these grants by reducing or eliminating federal dollars previously earmarked for instructional programs less directly related to student achievement.

But I will be surprised if there is any strong dissention by the public school system over the federal government rewarding local education providers with more tax dollars to ensure students receive adequate education.  Why would they complain about the possibility of more money being thrown at a failing system of education?  They are receiving what they have been demanding all along.  They will be provided money to fund what they have been screaming is an unfunded mandate.  What is wrong with this picture?  

Parents should have all along been able to decide where their designated education dollars will be spent. By forcing schools to compete for students, they will have to raise their standards and operate with more efficiency and legitimacy.  But when schools can keep their tax dollars, regardless of their performance, there is no incentive for change. Where is the incentive now?  Where is the accountability?  Schools who lose students will still keep their tax dollars.  Schools who receive students will pay for them with additional tax dollars. 

It is understandable that the federal government has been frustrated by the roadblocks to achieving NCLB goals.  Yet by throwing more money at the system, it has awarded one big temper tantrum led by the unions who have been screaming that schools can't change unless they have more money.  Who loses?  Students in successful schools that might have benefited by education programs cut out of the federal budget and which will now be spent on students forced to exit failing schools that continue to benefit from public money and yet will not be held accountable for their failure.  ESR

Nancy Salvato works as a Head Start teacher in Illinois.  She is also the President of The Basics Project, a non-profit, non-partisan 501 (C) (3) research and educational project whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal and social issues important to our country. She is also a Staff Writer, for the New Media Alliance, Inc., a non-profit (501c3) coalition of writers and grass-roots media outlets, where she contributes on matters of education policy. Copyright © Nancy Salvato 2006







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