Stateline Story

State Legislators Pull Support From Bush Education Plan

In a strongly worded letter, an organization representing many of the nation's 7,000 state legislators told Congress it does not support the education plan President George W. Bush set in motion after taking office in January.

Asserting that there are numerous flaws in legislation reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which provides about seven percent of state school budgets, lawmakers belonging to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) said it was their "honest opinion that this 'reform' stops us in our tracks and sends us off on a new and not necessarily successful course."

Topping their list of complaints with the bill: its testing requirement. Under Bush's plan, states would be required to test students in grades 3-8 in reading and math each year initially, and eventually in science and history as well.

The legislators say that of the top 10 scoring states on the National Assessment of Education Progress test, which is given to students in grades 4 and 8, only one complies with the proposed law by testing students annually in 3-8.

"There is no correlation between annual testing and student performance on NAEP," says the letter signed by New York Sen. Stephen Saland (R), Minnesota Sen. Jane Krentz (D), Kansas Rep. Ralph Tanner (R) and Virginia Del. Jim Dilliard (R), all officers of NCSL.

The legislators are also concerned with the costs of the "mandates" in the bill that would come at a time when state budgets are being cinched.

"We fear that compliance with the federal mandates may be undercut unless states severely reduce other vital areas of their budgets. These cutbacks could very well imperil the progress we have made at the state level in accountability systems, pre-school programs, teacher preparation and certification, class size reduction, facilities upgrades and other critical areas," the legislators say.

The NCSL letter also complains:

  • that many states already have testing systems in place that would have to be altered if the bill is approved;
  • that the-bill doesn't provide enough money to cover new testing. The US Senate version estimates it will cost states $880 million over three years to comply, but the bill would provide only $370 million;
  • that student performance standards are set so high that 90 percent of the nation's schools would be labeled as failing, a finding attributed to the Congressional Research Service;
  • that the bill would require states to collect data on each student and break it down by race and ethnicity, eroding student privacy at a prohibitive cost;
  • that the bill would require states to have a certified teacher in every classroom within three years, at a time when states are facing the need to hire more than 2 million new teachers in the next decade;
  • and-that the bill would underfund the federal share of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which provides for the education of special needs students. 

Tags: Education