BOSTON - U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told state legislators Congress would seek a major overhaul of the No Child Left Behind Act, which states have protested as an unfunded mandate and unprecedented federal intrusion into schools.
"So different will this bill be from the original No Child Left Behind, that we're thinking of changing it's name," Pelosi said Wednesday (Aug. 8), addressing the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
The 2002 federal law, which has riled some state lawmakers and educators to the point of rebellion, mandates annual testing in reading and math for grades 3-8 and once during high school. The goal is to make all students proficient in the subjects by 2013-14. Schools that fail to make annual progress face a variety of penalties, from being forced to pay for tutoring to being taken over by the state.
Pelosi said the House would work to address state lawmakers' concerns that No Child is too rigid for states and provides little money to meet its goals.
"I believe you will be pleased with the legislation that is gathering strong bipartisan support. The bill will be fair and flexible, responding to legitimate concerns by you and others while fulfilling our promise to improve student performance, increase school accountability and provide students with the resources they need to learn the skills that will be crucial to their future success," she said.
David Shreve, an education analyst with NCSL, said states are mostly interested in being able to tailor their testing systems to meet their own needs, including allowing schools to use more than one kind of test to determine proficiency.
Utah state Rep. Kory Holdaway (R), a special education teacher, said that extra money from Congress would not be useful unless the law is changed to meet states' needs. "You could increase the money to the full amount (authorized) and still have the same problems," he said.
Pelosi, the first woman elected speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, also touted Congress' efforts to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) for low-income children. She also pointed to more money to replace National Guard equipment and a measure to protect state authority over those soldiers.
States share the costs of the $5 billion-a-year SCHIP program with the federal government and are counting on more federal dollars.
"Bringing health insurance to America's children is a moral imperative," Pesloi said. But she noted that significant differences must be ironed out between a U.S. House bill for SCHIP that would provide $50 billion more over five years and the Senate's bill for $35 billion more.
President Bush, who has criticized the plans as "Congress' attempt to federalize medicine," is holding out for an increase of only $5 billion and has threatened to veto either congressional version of the bill.
Pelosi received a standing ovation for praising America's troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. She said the war has presented a special challenge for states, since 80 percent of National Guard troops and reservists have been deployed to the Middle East since 2001.
On top of that, the National Guard is currently equipped with only 40 percent of its authorized equipment, and many stateside units may not be able to fully respond to a domestic emergency, Pelosi said
The federal fiscal 2008 defense bill, passed by the U.S. House last week, provides $1 billion specifically to address equipment shortfalls in the National Guard and reserves both for overseas and domestic needs, Pelosi said.
NCSL President Leticia Van de Putte, a Democratic state senator from Texas, said the money for the National Guard was good news for states.
"We are encouraged that the speaker recognized the authority of our governors and the states to first and foremost make sure that we have the equipment and the numbers to respond to the natural disasters," she said.