National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) President Betty Preston joined colleagues from nearly half the states at a Washington meeting recently that focused on the new education bill, President Bush's budget and the coming reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which funds education for students with physical, emotional and learning disabilities.
In an interview, STATELINE.ORG asked Preston about some of the issues facing her and NASBE.
STATELINE.ORG: What challenges does the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act present to state boards of education?
Preston: One of the main challenges is a funding challenge. We are facing cuts because state budgets are in a financial crunch right now. Because of that, as we see the (testing) mandates that are coming with ESEA ... and we face other cuts in our states it really stretches our budgets to find additional money for the testing that is coming down.
STATELINE.ORG: When you look at the Bush budget proposal do you feel he has provided enough for the testing that is required?
Preston: It depends on what testing is already going on in a state. Because if there has to be a yearly test then in some states that is going to mean they have a lot of additional work to do. Some states are already very far ahead of what is being required. (The law requires states to report student test scores and strive for 100 percent student "proficiency" in subjects within 12 years.) Compared to what some states are doing, the federal proficiency standard is not very high, quite honestly. So there is a disconnect there, and what a state is going to have to say: here is what it means to be proficient federally, but here is what it means to be proficient within our state. And those may be very dissimilar identifications.
STATELINE.ORG: How does the federal government's failure to live up to its commitment to provide 40 percent of the funding for special education affect a state's ability to carry out reforms that are going to be required by the new education bill?
Preston: The lack of funding is an issue for many school districts because of the wide range of services that are required to be delivered to students -- services that impact students and yet are not in the normal realm of what has traditionally gone on in the school setting. So, as we bring in all those other services in it is a financial drain on many districts. ...There is only so much money to go around.
STATELINE.ORG: Your members have been visiting Capitol Hill to speak with their representatives in Congress. What have they been saying?
Preston: We know that ESEA is set at this time. There is a negotiation panel that will look at regulations. And one of the things that was on the minds and in the conversations with most of the members was to use common sense as the regulations are developed. We want them to be careful to give states flexibility. That if states have good accountability processes in place, don't do things that will inhibit the momentum that has already been demonstrated through the good work in those states.
Another thing they were saying was let's find ways to meld general education and special education into one focus delivering services to all students.. And, get rid of the paperwork, because one of the things teachers tell us over and over again is there is so much paperwork and so many procedures involved in meeting the needs of special ed children. It is fine to have a philosophy of making sure that all kids are being measured in what they are learning and all teachers are seeing the reflection of what they are promoting in their classrooms through the students' achievement levels. It is one thing to have that philosophy but the money has to be behind it to really do it.