When President Bush visited North Glen Elementary School in Glen Burnie last week to tout the success of his signature education initiative, the No Child Left Behind law, he cited the school's progress in narrowing the achievement gap between minority and white students on state tests.
That school's progress is impressive, but one administrator pointed out that it was achieved, at least in part, thanks to extra federal funding. Too many other schools are unable to show that kind of progress because federal education funding has been coming up short.
Several of the main goals of NCLB - ensuring that all students perform at grade level, having a highly qualified teacher in each classroom and narrowing, if not eliminating, the achievement gap between minorities and whites - are certainly laudable. But neither Congress nor the administration has backed them up with adequate funding. Analysts note that when the law took effect in 2002, federal spending on schools first increased by 16 percent but has since dropped back to slightly below what it was when the legislation passed. One recent study also concluded that 2005 spending for Title I, which aims to boost instruction for students from low-income families and also helps school districts fulfill their NCLB obligations, went up by 3 percent at the same time that the proportion of children in poverty increased by 6 percent. Such spending shortfalls have come even as accountability requirements under NCLB have gotten stiffer, supporting many state complaints that the law amounts to an unfunded mandate.
In response to President Bush's visit, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings noted that underfunding of NCLB has cost Maryland nearly $120 million in academic enrichment programs for low-income children, after-school programs for all students, teacher training, special education and instruction for students with limited proficiency in English.
As he prepares his newest budget, Mr. Bush should remember that while money isn't the only ingredient in a school's success, it's an essential one.