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A Falling Out Among Thieves

Don't cry for Representative Miller. NCLB is bad legislation--even if the money were there. And if you follow Miller's remarks about education, you realize that he and Bush were not strange bedfellows. People who whine that NCLB is about money reveal ethical bankruptcy.

THE HONEYMOON is over. They were an odd bipartisan couple from the start. Little wonder their relationship is crumbling.

It was more than two years ago that then-President-elect George W. Bush invited Rep. George Miller to Texas to discuss education.

The Martinez congressman was the senior Democrat on the House Education Committee. He wanted tougher teacher standards and more school accountability. Bush wanted to "Leave No Child Behind."

A year later, as the president signed landmark education legislation, the congressman he nicknamed "Big George" was at his side. A White House spokesman said it signaled "working across party lines to make sure things get done the right way."

Miller now says the president didn't live up to his end of the deal.

THE DEAL: The heralded legislation aimed to close the achievement gap between poor and rich, and minority and white, students within 12 years by linking federal funding to academic progress.

The new academic goals would come with money targeted to help students in low-performing schools. But there were new strings on the federal funding.

If low-performing schools failed to improve test scores, they would be eligible for extra federal funding. But they also could be forced to pay for transporting students to another public school and private tutoring. After five years without progress, a school risked a state takeover, conversion to a charter school or staff restructuring.

To support the new law, Miller bucked a key constituency of his own party, teacher unions. The liberal congressman believed in the tough-love approach to education.

"He understands the importance of strong accountability," Bush said of Miller early on. "We're going to work together to make sure that it's an integral part of a reform package."

Miller delivered Democratic votes for the president. Miller recalls that Bush had told him, "You do the reforms and the resources will be there."

THE SPLIT: That's where he says the president let him down. The money hasn't been there.

"The test is whether we are giving our schools the resources we promised and that they need," Miller said. "On that critical test, President Bush gets an F."

Miller's staff estimates that Bush failed to prod the Republican-controlled Congress into delivering all the promised funding. By their calculation, the appropriations have fallen 22 percent short. And the money that has been appropriated hasn't all been spent by the administration as Bush promised Miller it would be.

Some key areas affected in the upcoming 2003-04 fiscal year, according to Miller's staff:

After-school programs. The administration proposes to spend only about one-third of what was called for in the No Child Left Behind legislation. The difference means that about 1.4 million children won't be served.

Poor children. The administration proposes about two-thirds of what was originally agreed to. The difference means 2.2 million kids won't receive help such as math and reading tutoring, nor more teachers to reduce classroom size.

Teacher training. The administration proposes to spend about 10 percent less than the original deal. That means 11,800 fewer teachers available to hire and 112,000 not receiving additional professional training.

RESPONSE: The Bush administration says the complaints are partisan rhetoric.

"The undeniable fact is that federal spending on education is at the highest levels ever," said Dan Langan, spokesman for U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige.

"Not only is there more money than ever before because of No Child Left Behind, but we're making sure that states and schools are spending taxpayer education dollars more wisely. ... What's being invested by the Bush administration is more than ample."

That's not how Miller sees it. "It is not a question of whether the president is spending more than before on education. The question is whether the president is spending what he promised on education and what we need for education, and the fact is he is not."

Miller feels betrayed by Bush. "He didn't keep his word on the funding. That's the disappointment. I took him at his word that education was his first priority."

Don't look for more school photo ops with "Big George" and the president. This marriage seems to be over.

— Daniel Borenstein
Miller says Bush didn't keep vows
Contra Costa Times
May 25, 2003


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