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No Child Left Behind act gets off to poor start - but needs repairs, not repeal

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Every child in America, regardless of their race or economic status, should be able to attend public schools with good teachers that will inspire them to pursue their dreams, get good jobs and strengthen America's future.

Two years ago, I worked with my Democratic and Republican colleagues in Congress to pass the landmark No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which has the potential to be the most ambitious federal effort to close the educational gap that exists for poor and disadvantaged students since the Great Society.

It is critical that our children have access to an education that will give them the tools they need to succeed in the increasingly competitive global marketplace.

NCLB contains a number of new or expanded requirements for states and local educational agencies that receive federal assistance. The 2001-2002 school year was the "base year" for the new adequate yearly progress standards -- performance in future years will be compared to this period.

By 2002-2003, annual report cards on school systems and schools had to be published. By 2005-2006, standards-based assessments in reading and mathematics must be administered to pupils in each of grades 3-8. These are just a few of the requirements under the law.

When it was enacted, there was hope that it signaled the beginning of a new era of bipartisan politics in public education. Since that time, President Bush and Republicans in Congress have severely undercut the goal of the law, namely, leaving no child behind.

The Bush Administration has not pushed for the funding necessary to enact these reforms, and as a result today we are more than $17 billion short of the original funding commitment.

Creating unfunded mandates for school reform is a surefire path to generating grass roots opposition to the law. We must provide states and school systems with the necessary financial resources to implement NCLB if we want to make sure it's effective.

Even if adequate funding were provided, the Department of Education's implementation of NCLB has been flawed. After talking with local school districts, it is clear there are areas that need to be fine-tuned.

For example, I have heard concerns about some of the standards set for students with limited English proficiency (LEP) and the developmentally disabled, as well as the punitive measures for not meeting these standards. We need to address these issues, and we should give NCLB a few years to achieve its potential.

Many people throughout the state have looked at these criticisms and have called for a full repeal of this law. We should strengthen this law, not repeal it. As with all large-scale federal legislation, it is hard to get everything right the first time. NCLB will require our commitment to making it work, and this means addressing the concerns of the professionals charged with implementing it every day.

I am an advocate for our public schools, I attended them all of my life, and I will send my children to them, but too many people are losing confidence in their ability to provide a solid education. We need to reinvigorate our schools and help them raise the performances of our children.

I believe the federal government will need to provide adequate funding to allow states to successfully implement NCLB provisions. I will continue to push for sufficient funding in Congress so that schools are not left with unfunded federal mandates at this time of tight state and federal budgets.

I am also looking into requests I have heard from several local educational officials asking for more flexibility from the Department of Education implementation timeline and performance measurement standards.

The quality of our public schools remains my top educational priority, and I will continue to closely monitor the Department's willingness to assist local and state school officials in the implementation of NCLB.

In the next few weeks, I will send a letter to Education Secretary Rod Paige with several proposed reforms to NCLB implementation that I have heard from local school districts. I will work with my Congressional colleagues on legislation that will help fix some of the incongruities presently in the law.

Adjustments to implementation and sufficient funding are critical if NCLB is to have a chance at achieving the dramatic improvements in school performance that its creators envisioned.

If we are serious about improving educational opportunities and building confidence in our public schools, we must make these reforms a top priority.

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