Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the administration is leaving millions of children behind with respect to education by failing to fully fund the programs he signed into law in the No Child Left Behind Act ("NCLBA"). The president's budget contains $9.4 billion less than the levels authorized under NCLBA. The president also eliminates funding for 38 existing education programs and level funds critical programs such as those supporting after-school care and teacher quality initiatives. Despite the funding crisis in our public schools, the president has proposed diverting millions of dollars in federal resources to voucher proposals that exempt private schools receiving federal funds from the accountability in the No Child Left Behind Act.
The president's failed promises on education come at a time when state and local communities are struggling with the worst budget shortfalls since World War II, leading to reductions in instruction time and lay offs of quality teachers and school staff. For example, over half of Iowa's school districts have already laid off teachers or support staff, increased class sizes or cut back or delayed purchases of books and technology. Ohio, a leader in state funding for early childhood education, has eliminated more than one third of its Head Start slots, with 6,238 fewer children being served and dozens of teachers laid off across the state.
The president highlights a $1 billion increase for Title I and IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a program supporting special education), but these increases come at the expense of other critical education programs. Bush's budget eliminates funding for 38 existing education programs, including programs supporting the creation of smaller learning communities, dropout prevention efforts and school counselors. In addition, the increases for Title I and IDEA fall far short of the levels promised by the administration in the NCLBA. The funding level for Title I – the program targeted on closing achievement gaps – is 7.1 billion less than that promised in NCLBA, leaving behind 2.4 million poor children who are eligible for assistance under this program. The funding level for IDEA is less than half of the amount promised – 19.7 percent of the national average per-pupil expenditure rather than 40 percent.
Development of high standards and effective accountability are critical components of any strategy to raise student performance and eliminate achievement gaps. But resources such as high quality teachers, manageable class sizes and afterschool programs are also critical. Progressives are working to ensure federal support for these important reform strategies. As a result of their efforts, the appropriation levels for education were $10.726 billion above the levels contained in the Bush budgets for FY02 through FY04; there was an additional $6.632 billion in funding specifically for NCLBA programs than contained in the Bush budgets.