Posted 12:02am October 24
by Vanessa Maltin
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
President Bush’s No Child Left Behind program, once seen as a political milestone for the Republican Party, may now be a threat to Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004.
In an October 13th Washington Post article, David Winston, a pollster for the congressional Republicans said, “Bush and the GOP trail Democrats 50 percent to 36 percent on the education issue, a 14-point drop since the measure was signed in January 2002.”
Winston attributes the decline in Bush’s numbers to the GOP’s silence on the issue over the past few months.
The No Child Left Behind Act, the most dramatic program in the last generation according to Bush, is designed to raise standards for student achievement to the highest level and give parents more information and more choices for schools in their district.
While Democrats and Republicans both believe that in the long run the program will work, Bush is being criticized for not sufficiently funding the program.
“We have created a workable school reform plan in the No Child Left Behind Act. The question is whether we will fund the Act and live up to its promise — or walk away from public education,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., in a recent statement.
Kennedy said that the Bush administration was able to reach agreements on raising academic standards of achievement and funding for after-school programs because Congress was assured they would have the resources to achieve these goals.
“[The Senate] will soon act on the education funding bill, based on an overall budget crafted solely by Republicans,” Kennedy said “Shamefully, it contains a litany of broken promises on education.”
Through No Child Left Behind, Bush had hoped to boost his image towards education by pushing for tougher standards, parental choice, and rigid penalties for failing schools and by securing the law as one of his top administration priorities. Since the 1960s when Democrats unveiled their Head Start and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, voters have seen them as the leaders in education reform.
Yet as Bush tries to erase the taint of Republicans trying to eliminate the Department of Education in the 1990s, he is faced with state after state reporting that more than half of their schools are not living up to the plan because of a lack of funds. Bush now finds himself under severe attack by Democrats for under-funding the law by billions of dollars.
From the perspective of both political parties as they enter the 2004 primary elections, because the president has been so engaged in his foreign policies in Iraq, North Korea and Iran and his ongoing problems convincing Americans that the economy is in fact coming out of its doldrums, he now faces the daunting task of funding those programs that he had pushed at the beginning of his presidency.
It is the opinion of many moderates and conservatives in the GOP that the Democrats will use this issue as one of the deciding factors in the coming elections. Many of Bush’s closest advisors are urging the president to retake the leadership role in funding education, so as not to let the Democrats regain control on the education act.
Republicans feel that because many states over the last few years have had their tax resources depleted that education is the one issue Bush must fund or be seen as the president who lost the ability to support and reform education.
“We strongly support accountability and higher standards, but we cannot accept unfunded mandates and broken promises,” Governor Wise of West Virginia, a Democrat, told the press. “This is about all children deserving the best possible education. If Congress does not fully fund this act, poor children in rural and urban schools will be left behind.”