A provision to punish states financially for failing to improve student performance has been eliminated from the federal school aid bill which won final congressional approval Tuesday (12/18). As the bill now stands, states will be required to expand student testing, but regardless of the test results, they will not be threatened with loss of federal aid.
Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman (D) and other supporters complained that election politics killed the provision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Lieberman, a member of the education conference committee, said the bill is headed for a final vote "without the teeth we hoped to have in it."
Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh (D) said that if a state was sanctioned for not improving test scores it could backfire on gubernatorial hopefuls or a presidential incumbent running for releection who wanted to carry the state.
"No one wanted to sanction a state in an election year," Bayh, a former governor of the Hoosier State, said at a Progressive Policy Institute press briefing. He said he was disappointed that the provision had been stricken.
Conservative House members on the committee that fashioned a final version of the school aid bill opposed sanctioning states over student performance, calling it a federal intrusion into states' rights . They also opposed using a national test to measure how well each state's school system is performing because it could lend to a national curriculum.
Many other members of the committee wanted to use the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), a voluntary Education Department exam currently given in grades 4 and 8, to make sure states are teaching children. In a horse trade, test supporters gave in on sanctions to keep NAEP in the legislation.
Lieberman said the bill as it now stands will require states to monitor and report the progress of students. If a state's students fail to improve for two years, the U.S. Education Department will so report to Congress.
"No governor wants to stand before his or her state and explain why you are failing. There is real public and political pressure in that," Bayh said.