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11 states want waivers; 4 states are prohibiting use of state funds to meet the NCLB mandate, and 2 states are opting out of NCLB.
Bush drums up support for No Child Left Behind


HARRISBURG, Pa. - President Bush touted his signature education initiative here Thursday, amid mounting criticism from some states -- and Democratic presidential candidates -- that the No Child Left Behind Act is too costly and intrudes on local control.

Making his 25th visit to Pennsylvania since the 2000 election, Bush sought to bolster support in this election year for the key component in his education plan: having every student achieve academic proficiency by 2014.

"The business of shuffling kids through the system has got to end," Bush told students, teachers and hundreds of others gathered at Central Dauphin High School in suburban Harrisburg, where 87 percent of the students attend college.

"We have to strive for higher standards at the high school level and use a curriculum that really works, not just one that sounds good."

In a speech that focused primarily on the connection between employment and education, Bush defended No Child Left Behind as a flexible mandate that allows for local control.

"We trust local people to chart the path to excellence," he said.

But increasingly, state legislatures say that power is being taken away by No Child Left Behind.

About 30 percent of state legislatures, led by both Republicans and Democrats, are so angry about what they consider an overly intrusive federal mandate that they are moving to opt out of some provisions despite the threat of losing federal funding.

Bush said he would like to see more money spent on students who are failing and said the states should contribute more to help foot the bill.

Democratic critics say it is unrealistic to expect school districts to achieve the standards without fully funding the new initiatives, including tutoring and teacher training. They say the president's proposed budget is about $9 billion shy of full funding.

"The president has created the mother of all unfunded mandates," said Rep. Joseph Hoeffel, D-Pa., who supported the bill with full funding.

Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards also voted for the bill, but now, as presidential candidates, are distancing themselves from it.

Kerry has said the quality of public schools should not be determined by a "one-size-fits-all" testing plan.

The first comprehensive report on No Child Left Behind was released last week by the Center on Education Policy, a public education advocacy group in Washington. It found that states and school districts are having problems meeting the law's stringent requirements with limited funding and staffing.

States are "feeling the pressure," said John Jennings, the center's director. "They're saying, 'Now we finally understand what it demands, and we want money to pay for these demands.'"

This has prompted legislatures in some states to consider bills challenging the law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Eleven are considering requesting waivers, exemptions or additional federal money; four are considering prohibiting the use of state or local money to comply with the mandates; and two -- Arizona and New Mexico -- would opt out of the mandate entirely.

— By Amy Worden and Dale Mezzacappa

February 13, 2004


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