Bait-and-Switch on Public Education

Congressional Republicans are nervous about a G.O.P. poll that shows them losing ground over education. But how could voters not be disappointed by the Bush administration's mishandling of education policy generally, and especially its decision to withhold more than $6 billion from the landmark No Child Left Behind Act, the supposed centerpiece of the administration's domestic policy?

The new law is supposed to place a qualified teacher in every classroom and wipe out the achievement gap between rich and poor children. Schools that fail to make steady progress are labeled deficient and required to provide students with costly tutoring and allow them to transfer to more successful public schools in the same district.

In some districts, more than 40 percent of the schools are called "in need of improvement." The lack of money from Congress has licensed a backlash by states that never wanted to comply with the law anyway, especially the provision that requires ending the achievement gap between rich and poor.

Right on cue, these states are pressing Congress to suspend the new standards and accountability measures — until full financing is made available. A few brave lawmakers, like the Democratic whip, Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, have taken a strong stand against this. While criticizing the G.O.P. for failing to fully finance the new law, Mr. Hoyer and others have urged the states to stay the course and to discontinue the practice of educating affluent children while letting the poor fall by the wayside.

The Bush administration wanted to trumpet No Child Left Behind, then fail to pay for it — without the voters taking notice. But Americans, who value education, can tell a bait-and-switch when they see one. If this issue comes back to bite the G.O.P. in the next election, the party will have only itself to blame.

 

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