Boehner Answers Community's Questions
August 26, 2005
The Myths and Realities of 'No Child Left Behind'
Summer is winding down and our children are heading back to school again. Now is the perfect time to answer some common questions about the federal law designed to make sure all of them receive a high quality education: No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Let's get started...
Does NCLB contain expensive new requirements for states?
No. A federal law enacted in 1994 required states to adopt regular testing systems as a condition of receiving federal education funds. So, states have been receiving federal aid for more than a decade to do exactly what NCLB asks them to do. The big difference now is we're actually enforcing the law.
But some lobbying groups and state agencies, unfortunately, want to have it both ways. They want the funding NCLB is providing, but they don't want to meet the high standards that come with it. They want more money and lower standards. This should not be acceptable to anyone, particularly those of us who believe the federal government is already spending enough of the taxpayers' money.
Is President Bush "underfunding" or spending less than "promised" on NCLB?
No. Since NCLB was signed into law, federal spending on elementary, secondary, and vocational education has risen by 65 percent. The federal government is spending more money on education than ever before. In fact, U.S. Department of Education figures show that this record funding has increased so rapidly that states can't keep up -- they're getting money faster than they can spend it.
And despite what reform opponents may want you to believe, these states weren't waiting for federal funding with empty bank accounts. The states returned more than $66 million in unused federal education funds to the U.S. Treasury at the end of last year. $6 billion in federal education funds has gone unspent since the year 2000; more than $325 million of those funds have been sitting around since the final years of the Clinton Administration!
On top of these raw numbers, the Education Department has also confirmed that the percentage of federal funds unspent by states is increasing, not decreasing.
As for whether President Bush or Congress are living up to their promises, consider this: When Democrats controlled Congress and the White House in 1994, they authorized $13 billion for the Improving America's Schools Act (IASA). But they only appropriated $10.3 billion. Did anyone accuse President Clinton of "underfunding" schools by $2.7 billion? Of course not.
For a basis of comparison, $24.4 billion was appropriated to schools for fiscal year (FY) 2005. The claim that NCLB is "underfunded" is pure fiction -- nothing more.
Are states obligated to participate in NCLB?
No. While a study by the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) has concluded that Congress provides more than enough money to meet NCLB's goals, states may at any time opt out of the law, and forego the money they would otherwise receive.
Keep in mind that education is primarily a state and local function; only 9 percent of education funding comes from Washington.
Is NCLB working?
Yes. Teachers, principals, and parents have responded to NCLB and are using it to make a difference for students.
The Ohio Department of Education released its state report card for the 2004-2005 academic year showing student math and reading proficiency has improved over last year's levels.
Nationwide, as accountability systems have been implemented, 9-year-old white students gained 5 points in reading and 8 points in math. Black students of the same age gained 14 points in reading and 13 in math, and Hispanic students gained 12 points in reading and 17 points in math.
Students at age 9 have demonstrated significant improvements in both reading and math, with scores higher than any other year recorded. In reading, 9-year-old students made greater gains in the last five years than in the previous 28 years combined.
Since President Bush signed NCLB into law in 2002, opponents of reform have said and done all they could to derail it. To their credit, their messages - no matter how deceptive - have resonated with many. But the fact is our children are doing better than ever and Ohio in particular has a lot to celebrate. Make no mistake, there's still a huge amount of work to do before we meet NCLB's goal of delivering quality education to every student -- but we're on our way.
I look forward to answering more of your questions next month. E-mail those you'd like to see answered in this column to me at AskBoehner@mail.house.gov.