by U.S. Senator Larry Craig
One pack of 24-count crayons. Two pink pearl erasers. Four spiral-bound notebooks. One bottle of glue. Buying school supplies isn't what most kids look forward to at the end of summer vacation, but it's a necessary ritual they must endure to be fully prepared for the first day of class.
Gearing up for this back-to-school season will be easier for parents though, as 117,000 Idaho taxpayers receive back some of their own money, thanks to the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Act of 2003 passed by Congress in May. When President Bush signed the bill into law, it increased the child tax credit from $600 per child to $1000 per child and set in motion an advance payment to parents to make up the difference.
Beginning the last week of July and continuing through the end of August, the government will be mailing out checks of up to $400 for each child to approximately 25 million taxpayers who claimed the child tax credit on their 2002 returns. These checks fulfill a the promise by President Bush and a Republican majority in Congress that hard working taxpayers should be able to keep more of the money they earn.
I definitely have more confidence in a mother of three children deciding how to spend her money than a Washington bureaucrat making that decision for her.
Along with the child tax credit advancements to parents, Idaho schools have received - and will continue to receive - an unprecedented increase in federal funding to raise the standards of education under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA). Signed into law eighteen months ago under the guiding principle that no child should be forgotten in our public school systems, all fifty states have now implemented the NCLBA.
The NCLBA stipulates that each State formulate and perform yearly assessments for all students from third to eighth grade in math and reading. Students must exhibit competency in these assessments from year to year, and if they don't, teachers and schools will be held accountable by their respective States. In keeping with the spirit of local control, the NCLBA provision to administer tests goes into effect only if the federal government provides the money.
Idaho received $90.8 million for NCLBA in formula funding for 2003, an overall increase of $29.2 million over the previous years. Funding for Title I programs will grow to $42.5 million in 2004, up $15.2 million from last year. Over the next six years, Idaho will receive $24.4 million under NCLBA to support reading instruction based on scientific research, early identification and help for reading difficulties, and high-quality professional development for teachers.
It is imperative that we have qualified teachers in our classrooms who understand the material they are responsible for teaching. The NCLBA provides for local control by the States in setting standards in teacher certification to demonstrate subject mastery. Some argue that meeting these standards will be difficult for those already established in the teaching profession, but an Idaho Blue Ribbon Commission has recommended a grandfather clause for these pre-NCLBA teachers as long as they can prove competency in their subject matter.
Funding and assessments are not the only working parts of the NCLBA. It challenges States and local communities to take an active role in properly educating our children by identifying schools in need of improvement and establishing a plan of action to get them back on track, encouraging parental involvement and designing effective tutoring programs for students who need it the most.
Just as schoolchildren need the right supplies to complete their lessons, parents and communities need the right resources and tools to ensure those children get the best possible education. With taxpayers allowed to keep more of their own money and communities given local control over their public schools, the Bush Administration and Congress have shown a serious commitment to helping our children succeed. It's a commitment that will carry through long after the first day of class.