Legislation viewed as step in right direction
Act still falls short in providing for school choice
WASHINGTON, D.C.--Pres. George W. Bush's signing of the Leave No Child Behind Act represents an important step in the right direction for education policy, but much remains to be done to reach the goal of access to quality education for all the nation's children.
That is the view of Michael J. Guerra, president of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), representing 200,000 Catholic educators.
"The new legislation signals a return to the original concept of the landmark 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act with its emphasis on benefits for children and its continued insistence that public educational agencies provide services to eligible students in Catholic and other private and religious schools. With Pres. Bush's leadership, a bipartisan coalition put the needs of children first and broke important new ground calling for standards and assessments. These are not small accomplishments, given the resistance of some sectors of the educational establishment to accountability," said Guerra.
The new education bill, valued at almost $30 billion, includes funds earmarked for helping disadvantaged children meet high standards, improving teacher quality, strengthening skills and enhancing education through technology. The legislation also includes provisions to foster greater control and increased flexibility at the state and local levels in deciding how to spend some of the federal funds.
"While there is some progress in the area of educational choice, it is modest at best, and a disappointment to Catholic educators," said Guerra. "Although the bill holds public schools responsible for improving the academic achievement of all students, it provides little support for low income parents whose children are trapped in failing public schools."
According to new legislation, after three years in a designated failing school, a poor parent may be able to obtain financial support for after-school tutoring from a broad range of providers, including religious organizations.
"Politically that's an important new initiative, but it falls far short of the help we believe parents deserve to choose the schools they want for their children,' said Guerra.
Catholic educators have been longtime supporters of school choice, arguing that giving parents an opportunity to choose schools is a matter of justice, he added.
"School choice is only a reality for those who have financial resources for tuition or housing in good school districts," he said. "We cannot forget that the children of the poor are our children too. Giving their parents the power to choose their schools is the right thing for us to do as a nation."