Issue Position: Elementary and Secondary Education
PUBLIC SCHOOL REFORM
The federal government has long provided support and resources for states and communities to improve education for all children. In 1965, Congress passed and President Lyndon Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the first large infusion of federal aid for public schools in the nation's history. In his January 12, 1965 Message to Congress, which helped spur Congress to move the Act forward, President Johnson wrote of support for public education that "Nothing matters more to the future of our country; not our military preparedness, for armed might is worthless if we lack the brainpower to build a world of peace; not our productive economy, for we cannot sustain growth without trained manpower; not our democratic system of government, for freedom is fragile if citizens are ignorant."
Those words are as true today as they were 43 years ago. Education is still the door to opportunity and the gateway to achieving the American Dream. Four decades after the enactment of that landmark law, however, the nation continues to struggle to provide schools with the resources they need to give all children the educational opportunities they deserve. Senator Kennedy strongly believes that Congress must act to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and modernize our public education system to give every child in America a fighting chance in today's economy.
The most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as the No Child Left Behind Act and signed into law in 2002, re-affirmed our national commitment to public education. The Act built on the foundation that states had laid on school reform, and sought to support and strengthen these efforts. For the first time, the law made a commitment that every child would be part of an accountability system - black or white, Latino or Asian, rich or poor. It promised that English language learners and students with disabilities would be given the opportunity to meet the same standards as all other students, and it held schools accountable for achieving that progress. The law also called for better professional development for teachers, so that every child would have a highly qualified teacher. In addition, the law expanded opportunities for students to participate in after-school programs and provided extra tutoring and academic support for students in struggling schools.
A key component of the No Child Left Behind Act was not just requiring more of schools, but giving them the resources needed to put these reforms in place. Unfortunately, the last six years have shown that many schools lack the support and resources needed to be effective. The Administration has failed to invest sufficiently in public schools and the President's Fiscal Year 2009 budget proposal continues that unacceptable trend. The budget provides no increase in overall education funding and underfunds the No Child Left Behind Act by $14.7 billion. The cumulative shortfall since enactment of the law is now $85.6 billion. Three million children will be left behind under the Bush budget, including 47,579 children in Massachusetts. Senator Kennedy is committed to increasing funds for public schools, especially to help struggling schools turn around and to ensure teachers have the resources they need to be effective in the classroom.
Since the No Child Left Behind Act was enacted, we've also seen how schools and districts struggle to meet the requirements of the law and effectively implement needed reforms. Senator Kennedy is committed to improving the law to make it work better for students, teachers, schools and states. His priorities include:
* Revising the law's one-size-fits-all approach, so that school districts and states have the flexibility to measure individual students' progress, choose which interventions will work best in struggling schools, and use indicators other than test scores to measure progress.
* Shifting the focus off labels for struggling schools and onto better support for these schools in their efforts to turn themselves around, with increased funding and greater time to implement reforms and obtain results.
* Correcting the dropout crisis, by investing more in high schools to ensure that students are ready for college and the workplace, and helping states to measure progress in improving graduation rates and using these rates as indicators of student achievement.
* Attracting and retaining good teachers in high-need schools and subjects, and supporting new and veteran teachers with better training, mentoring, professional development, and opportunities for career advancement.
* Supporting states in their efforts to develop reliable, high-quality assessments that are aligned to rigorous standards, and ensuring that students - especially students with disabilities and English language learners - do not have to take tests they can't understand.
* Strengthening supplemental services, to achieve high-quality programs, better accountability for providers, and real opportunities for more students to know about and take advantage of this critical support.
* Addressing students' non-academic needs and helping parents to be well-informed, by requiring consistent and timely communication with parents, and by promoting family and community involvement in schools.
* Encouraging schools to provide a comprehensive curriculum, including subjects such as history, civics, the arts, music and physical education, so that all children are well-rounded and have opportunities for many different kinds of learning experiences.
* Increasing funds for Title I and key NCLB programs, to reverse the broken promises made by the Bush Administration and Republican budgets, and to guarantee that schools and districts have the resources they need to implement these reforms effectively.
* Assisting states in developing rigorous standards aligned to curricula and assessments, and in preparing students for higher education and for competing in the 21st century global economy.
* Providing early education opportunities for more young children, especially the lowest-income children, so that they will arrive at school ready to learn and have a level playing field.
* The Republican budget for FY 2006 cut funding for No Child Left Behind by $1 billion.
* In the four since No Child Left Behind was enacted into law, President Bush and the Republican Congress have underfunded the law by $40 billion.
* Republican funding cuts left three million disadvantaged children behind in public schools; and left over 1.6 million children out of after-school programs.