The Kids Left Behind
By Bob Herbert
New York Times
Thursday 28 August 2003
He was going to be the education president, and during the campaign in 2000 he hugged kids from coast to coast, crowing about the education miracle in Texas and promising to spread the Texas model nationwide.
He said he was a different kind of Republican, a man of honor and compassion who would look out for the kids.
It was all smoke, of course photo-ops in a cynical campaign. You knew it was smoke when the "compassionate" George W. Bush put Dick Cheney on the ticket, a former congressman who had voted against funding for Head Start, against subsidizing school lunches and against federal aid for college students.
In other words, against kids.
Next week the Senate will take up the education budget proposed for next year by the White House and Senate Republicans. From the perspective of those who are pro-children, it's loaded with bad news. Not only does the bill fall far short of the photo-op promises Mr. Bush made to provide funding for programs to improve public education, but it would actually cut $200 million from the president's very own (and relentlessly touted) No Child Left Behind Act.
We're talking about a real cut $200 million less than is being spent on this already underfunded initiative.
The proposed cuts, according to Congressional officials who have studied the budget proposal, would eliminate a high school dropout prevention program, would prevent more than 32,000 children with limited proficiency in English from participating in federally supported English instruction programs, would drastically cut high school equivalency and college assistance for migrant children, and would end the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship program.
The proposal would also cut more than 20,000 teachers from professional training programs, despite Mr. Bush's promise that teachers would "get the training they need to raise educational standards." And it would completely eliminate training for teachers in computer technology.
Among those who are steaming over the proposal is Senator Edward Kennedy, one of a number of Democrats who gave the president the kind of good-faith, high-profile, bipartisan support that was crucial to the passage of No Child Left Behind.
Here is what Senator Kennedy will say on the Senate floor next week:
"The bill before us contains harsh and unacceptable cuts to education that will hurt families, students, schools and teachers throughout the country. The president and Congress promised to reform and improve public education . . . but if we pass the legislation before us as is, the message again to parents and teachers and schools will be, `You're on your own.' "
Senator Kennedy also plans to stress that the president is prone to making promises that are never kept: "A pattern is emerging. Each year the president picks a large area to work in a bipartisan fashion and promise compassion and help. In the past that area has been education. This year, it is the global AIDS crisis, and we hope that the promised support will happen. But on education, the promises made consistently have been broken."
It's hard to believe the president ever intended to adequately fund the No Child Left Behind Act. Mr. Bush fights ferociously for the things he really cares about: enormous tax cuts for the wealthy, for example, or launching a war against Iraq. He has never showed a similar passion for improving the public schools. The administration tried to cut funding for the No Child Left Behind Act less than two weeks after the president signed it into law.
The tax cuts and the ever-increasing costs of the war are submerging the nation in a sea of red ink, and the hopes of millions of school-age youngsters are sinking right along with it.
As for the Texas education miracle more smoke. The largest and most frequently praised district, Houston, is being monitored by the state after an audit showed that more than half of the 5,500 students who left school in the 2000-2001 year should have been counted as dropouts, but were not.
President Bush was apparently serious about bringing the Texas model to the nation. He made the superintendent of the Houston school district the nation's education secretary.
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