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QUOTATION: People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote - a very different thing. - Walter H. Judd

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2004-09-20 - 4:03 p.m.

Broken Promises

I’ve been wishing that Senators Kerry and Edwards would be more specific about how the Bush administration has failed the No Child Left Behind Act rather than just giving a vague criticism, because I think if parents really understood, it could make a difference in the outcome of this election. President Bush and Congress have broken their promises to fund the No Child Left Behind Act, producing greater burdens on schools while short-changing them nearly $27 billion -- resources essential to making reforms work. And President Bush's 2005 budget makes even greater cuts. Meanwhile, millionaires are having their taxes cut and schools are laying off teachers, slashing school construction and in some cases shortening the school year. 14 million children are home alone after school, but after-school programs are the first to be cut in the current budget crunch. College costs are soaring, and loan and grant programs are not keeping up.

This is another case where Bush is talking the talk, but not walking the walk. No Child Left Behind sounds good – but is just more compassionate conservative rhetoric. In fact, the program places demands on schools, but has not provided the funding to make it happen. The only way a true No Child Left Behind program will happen is when teachers, parents, students and citizens join together to demand that our children's education be given the priority it deserves.

I think many people are not aware of the impact the No Child Left Behind mandates have made on their state’s school. If you go to this Great Public School site and click on your state, you can discover how the administration has supported or failed your children. It varies from state to state. In California, for instance, California kids and public schools have been left behind…and I predict it will only get worse after the election.

Everyone agrees every child in California should be guaranteed a great public education. We hear that one of the reasons for outsourcing jobs is that our graduates don't have the educational background to compete. The basic building blocks are clear – quality pre-school, small classes, skilled teachers, safe and modern schools, afterschool programs and affordable college. It is already known that the White House has written up a plan to slash education programs in their first budget after the election.

The White House’s 2005 budget was $2.9 billion short of what it takes to ensure Head Start for the California youngsters who are eligible for it. This funding gap means 382,950 children will be denied Head Start. And their plan for the next year is to cut nearly $22 million from Head Start in California, leaving another 4,117 children out.

New teachers nationwide quit within their first three years because of low pay and overcrowded classrooms. Since 2001 California has not received any funding from the White House specifically for class size reduction. And the White House’s 2005 budget is more than $28 million short on funding promised for improving teacher quality – funding that could be used to hire more than 790 teachers. California schools are in drastic need of repairs and modernization. The White House eliminated the school renovation grant program and did not include a dime for school modernization and repairs in its 2005 budget. Only 12% of California students are able to participate in after school programs. The White House came up almost $139 million short on afterschool – only half of what was promised.

The White House’s plan for education cuts next year would reduce Teacher Quality grants by $8.7 million – preventing schools in California from hiring another 255 new teachers in 2006 alone. And the White House’s post-election budget plan cuts $30.6 million from funding for students with disabilities ending support services to 17,891 students.

The average tuition at public colleges in California recently shot up by 5 percent, forcing many students out of college or into increased loan debt. The White House has refused to keep the promise of the Pell Grant program, leaving behind 382,291 students in California this past school year. In fact, the White House’s 2005 budget freezes the maximum award for the neediest students for the third consecutive year. After the election the White House plan calls for $37.7 million in cuts to the federal Pell Grant program – keeping some 15,711 California students from getting the grants they need to go to college.

One of the most important features of the No Child Left Behind act is that it requires measuring each school’s “adequate yearly program.” It does not, however, measure individual learning, but compares the test scores of a class against that of last year’s class in very narrow curriculum. Each score is measured against the previous year’s class. Individual improvement is disregarded. It fails to recognize that abilities vary and that the make-up of each class is different.

If a school fails, No Child Left Behind mandates a school spend up to 20% of the school’s budget on transporting children to other schools. There is a huge gap between what was promised and what the President has actually sent forward to the schools. Teachers say that NCLB is inflexible and punitive, does not measure individual growth, has transferred the focus from education to testing, and ignores the reality of an achievement gap, especially in areas with high concentrations of immigrant children with English as second language.

More broken promises to public education from an administration that has already expressed support for a voucher system that would allow greater choice, but would siphon money away from public education system and certainly not guarantee better education for our children. It would, however, provide funding for the fundamentalist Bob Jones type schools or charter schools to start up all over the country.

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