Bush education plan creating discussion on Capitol Hill

By Sarah Lechner
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
February 28, 2001

Legislation for President George W. Bush’s proposed education plan is making its way through the Senate Education Committee, where senators are working to finalize language and omit controversial education issues from the bill’s text until the legislation reaches the full Senate.

Chairman James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.) and ranking Democrat Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.) have agreed to omit controversial issues in the committee’s initial writing of the education bill, Joe Karpinski, communications director for the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension, told U-WIRE.

“In the interest of time, it would make sense to defer those issues,” he said.

Instead of debating partisan issues in committee, Karpinski said senators could debate issues such as school choice on the Senate floor.

School choice is one of the most hotly contested issues in education. President Bush has proposed requiring statewide testing of students in grades three to eight. After three years of failing scores for schools, parents would be provided with federal money to send their children to private or religious schools, according to the Bush plan.

“Students should not be forced to attend persistently failing schools, and they must at some point be freed to attend adequate schools,” Bush said in the foreword to his proposal. “Under this plan, disadvantaged students will not be required to sacrifice their education and future for the sake of preserving the status quo.”

Democrats strongly oppose the school choice plan, calling it equivalent to school vouchers. Democrats say federally subsidized private school vouchers take away funding from public schools. Republicans counter that school choice will increase accountability in public schools, one of Bush’s main goals in his education package.

Bush has called his education plan, No Child Left Behind, the “framework” to strengthening elementary and secondary schools, through goals such as school accountability, improving literacy and adding technology to classrooms.

Bush has also emphasized parental involvement and school safety in his package.

The plan, which Bush announced Jan. 23, is moving its way through the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Secretary of Education Roderick R. Paige testified Feb. 15 at a committee hearing on behalf of Bush’s plan.

“It is uncomfortably clear that our system of elementary and secondary education is failing to do its job for far too many of our children, a failure that threatens the future of our nation, and a failure that the American people will no longer tolerate,” Paige told the committee. “It is time to stop funding failure and start building a culture of accountability and achievement in our education system.”

Karpinski said the education committee is working on specific language of the bill, in the areas of testing and literacy, both of which are priorities in the Bush administration. The committee is waiting for more direction from the White House on those issues, he said.

But members are working on a tight deadline because Senator Trent Lott (R-Miss.) wants the bill to be brought to the Senate floor in early March, Karpinski said.

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