Hope for best in 1,200 pages


Legislation: The new No Child Left Behind Act contains something for everyone -- which may prove to be a bit too much.

January 09, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

PRESIDENT Bush signed the cumbersomely named No Child Left Behind Act yesterday in Hamilton, Ohio, a stop on a 12-hour, three-state tour that also took him to New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Why those states? They're home to three of the four congressional architects of the sweeping legislation: Republican Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Those three, plus the fourth, Democratic Rep. George Miller of California, traveled with the president.

It was a strange mixture of Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. But that's been the way of this legislation since Bush proposed it a year ago. Without a scorecard, there hasn't been a way to tell the D's from the R's. And the supreme irony is that some of the R's who wanted to do away with the U.S. Department of Education a few years ago voted for a bill that makes the department a major regulatory agency.

Within the 1,200 pages of the act, there's something for everyone. Public television, for example, got some money. Sen. Jesse Helms, a Republican from North Carolina, got a provision that would take away federal funds from any district that discriminates against the Boy Scouts or other groups that bar gays.

Authorized funding levels in the bill represent genuine bipartisan compromise. Kennedy advised fellow liberals not to be too greedy, and they listened. The final 2002 education budget, $26.5 billion, is $8 billion more than the year before and $4 billion more than Bush requested. But it's $6 billion below what Senate Democrats wanted.

The bill balances the president's demands for greater accountability with the Democrats' determination to boost federal spending to help failing schools and the poorest of students.

Much is made of the bill's call for testing of all students in grades three through eight in reading and math. But that's only part of the act's "stunning federal mandate," in the words of Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone. Wellstone, a Democrat, says the bill strikes at the "essence of local control."

He must have read the bill. Bush conceded that it's too much to peruse in all of its complexity. But when he does read it, he might discover that the accountability demanded in No Child Left Behind is monitored and enforced by the U.S. Department of Education and its secretary, not by the nation's 15,000 local school boards.

We are an admirably egalitarian society. So that no children are left behind, so none are treated differently because they are poor or black or disabled, we create legislation like No Child Left Behind and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act -- mammoth packages of rules and regulations that will create work for lawyers for decades.

This bill might assure that fewer children are left behind. It might also collapse from all the weight it's carrying. Pray for the former.

City investor shows the money and the will

On the day the president signed the landmark bill, the family of Baltimore investor Eddie C. Brown formally announced a $5 million donation to help African-American middle-schoolers.

Brown is a citizen who won't wait for the government to launch a "program." He has the money and the will to do it. Bless him.

"Expectations become behavior," said Mayor Martin O'Malley at the press conference announcing the grant from the Brown Family Foundation. Brown has high expectations for these sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade Baltimore kids.

Associated Black Charities and the Baltimore Community Foundation, the two groups that will administer the Brown grant, will hold a daylong "community dialogue" on urban education tomorrow. The morning session, open to the public, is at the Baltimore School for the Arts, 712 Cathedral St.

Annual roundup shows the state's highs and lows

Quality Counts 2002, an annual roundup of the states' education improvement efforts as compiled by editors of the trade publication Education Week, declares that Maryland's school improvement program is the nation's best. The sixth annual report, released yesterday, gives Maryland a numerical grade of 98 and a grade of A for "standards and accountability."

The report also says Maryland public schools aren't anywhere near equitably funded. The state's "equity" grade is 62, or D-, among the lowest in the nation.

The Thornton Commission has recommended a $1.1 billion increase in state school spending over five years, most of it for less affluent districts such as Baltimore. If the governor and General Assembly do their moral -- and constitutional -- duty, Maryland could move toward the head of Quality Counts' class.

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