S. 1 - Better Education for Students and Teachers Act, 05/09/2001

May 9, 2001

S. 1 - Better Education for Students and Teachers Act
(Sen. Jeffords (R) VT)

The Administration supports Senate passage of S. 1, which reflects the themes of "No Child Left Behind", the President's comprehensive proposal to reform the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), and urges the Senate to refine the bill to include additional elements of that proposal, while maintaining fiscal discipline. The Administration is pleased that S. 1, as reported by the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, incorporates many of the basic components of the President's key proposals to: (1) require States to conduct annual testing in reading and math for students in grades 3 through 8, to help States, schools, and parents know who is on track and who needs extra help; (2) consolidate numerous programs relating to teacher quality, educational technology, and choice and innovation into three performance-based grants to States that would allow States and local school districts to direct Federal funds where they are most needed; and (3) establish new "Reading First" and "Early Reading First" programs to support scientifically-based methods to ensure that all children can read by the end of third grade, making reading the foundation of education reform. Further, the Administration is pleased that a consensus has developed to make improvements to the Committee reported bill.

However, the Administration strongly opposes the costly and unwarranted amendment to convert special education funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to direct spending. The Administration recognizes the challenges faced by States and localities in carrying out their responsibility to educate children with disabilities; the Budget provides a $1 billion increase in FY 2002 for IDEA grants to States, by far the largest increase ever proposed in a President's Budget, and a solid foundation from which to improve the program to better focus on quality and educational results for children with disabilities. But the amendment would undermine fiscal discipline by removing the program from the appropriations process and increasing Federal spending for special education far in excess of the President's Budget over the next ten years, with no attention to improving educational results for these children. The Administration believes that special education issues could be better addressed within the context of a thorough review of the IDEA, not through a floor amendment on the ESEA bill.

The Administration would make the following additional comments.

  • Parental Option for Private School Choice and/or Supplemental Services. The Administration is pleased that S. 1 permits students in persistently failing schools to transfer to better public schools, and that it requires school districts to provide transportation for these students to their new schools. The Administration is also pleased that agreement has been reached to allow parents to use public funds to obtain supplemental services for these children, but this amendment does not go far enough. The Administration strongly urges the Senate to further amend S. 1 to require districts to provide funds to parents of students in failing schools that those parents can use to enroll their children in private schools.

  • Excessive Appropriation Authorization Levels. The total appropriation authorizations contained in S. 1, as reported, exceed the President's total request for elementary and secondary education programs by over $9 billion for FY 2002. The Administration has produced a responsible Budget that includes significant increases for key education programs while also maintaining fiscal discipline government-wide. The Administration urges the Senate to pass a bill that is closely aligned with the President's Budget.

  • Increased Flexibility for States and School Districts. The Administration is pleased that agreement has been reached to include a pilot program to allow interested States and school districts added flexibility in using Federal funds in exchange for meeting specific goals for increased student performance, as the President proposed.

  • Appropriations Trigger for State Assessments. The Administration is pleased that agreement has been reached to improve a provision in the reported bill that would permit States to delay implementation of annual assessments in grades 3 through 8 if Congress does not provide a certain level of funds to pay for States to develop these tests. However, the Administration continues to have serious reservations about the funding "trigger" for implementation of these assessments. Annual assessments are the centerpiece of the Administration's proposal to improve accountability. Delaying their implementation would significantly weaken efforts to improve student performance and create uncertainty among States and districts about what they are expected to have in place. The Budget requests $320 million for a new State assessments program, which demonstrates a major Federal commitment to help States, many of which have already invested heavily in developing high-quality assessments, ensure improved accountability.

  • Unnecessary Authorities. S. 1 should be amended to remove unrequested authorities and repeal those that the Administration has determined to be ineffective or unnecessary. The President's ESEA proposal is based on streamlining and simplifying the plethora of existing education programs so that States and school districts can better address their own needs. As a result, the President's FY 2002 Budget consolidates dozens of programs into flexible, performance-based grants. S. 1 should be amended to reflect these consolidations and to eliminate any unrequested authorities.

  • Bilingual Education. The Administration is pleased that an agreement has been reached to consolidate bilingual and immigrant programs into a State formula-grant program at a certain funding level, in place of the current fragmented structure of competitive grants to individual school districts. The Administration continues to believe that the bill should also hold States accountable for ensuring that LEP students attain English proficiency within three years.

  • Math-Science Partnerships. The President's Budget provides funds for this program within the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF has effectively administered other activities related to this initiative and the Administration believes that NSF's expertise will be invaluable in ensuring a successful program. The Administration therefore urges the Senate to amend S. 1 to eliminate this authority from the ESEA, enabling NSF to administer this initiative.

Additional Concerns. Title VII of S. 1 would, authorize education grants to, or for the benefit of, people who are classified as Native Hawaiians, Eskimos, Aleuts, and other Alaska Natives, which may raise constitutional questions.

Amendments on Class Size Reduction and School Renovation. The Administration understands that amendments may be offered to add additional programs to the ESEA, including class-size reduction and school construction. The Administration strongly opposes including these programs, and other programs not provided for in the President's budget, in S. 1. Decisions regarding whether to invest in reducing the size of classes or renovating schools are best made at the local level. The Administration's teacher quality proposal provides both sufficient flexibility and funding for States and districts to implement a variety of strategies to improve teaching, including class-size reduction. The Administration is committed to ensuring that local districts determine what works best for them, rather than prescribing a required set of activities. Repair and modernization of schools is primarily a State and local responsibility. In fact, the creation of a Federal grant program may have a detrimental effect on the infrastructure of our nation's schools by giving localities an excuse to defer funding for school repairs based on the false hope that Federal funds will become available.

The Administration urges the Senate to amend S. 1 to address the concerns outlined above, as well as other concerns with the Committee bill.