August 13, 2001
Honorable Robert E. Andrews
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Congressman Andrews:
I am writing to express the Administration's views on several important issues facing the conferees on the House and Senate versions of H.R. 1, the "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001" and the "Better Education for Students and Teachers Act of 2001," respectively. Additional issues, such as those relating to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, may be addressed in other letters and communications from the Administration as the conference progresses.
I am pleased that both versions of this legislation, which passed their respective chambers by wide bipartisan margins, generally reflect the themes of No Child Left Behind, the President's comprehensive proposal to reform the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). It is very gratifying that one or both of the respective bills incorporate many of the basic components of the President's key proposals to: (1) require States to conduct annual testing in reading and mathematics 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, bilingual education, issues of national significance and educational technology into performance-based grants to States that would allow States and local school districts to direct Federal funds where they are most needed; (3) make reading the foundation of education reform by establishing 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; (4) strengthen accountability provisions designed to turn around failing schools; and (5) empower parents with choices when their children are trapped in failing schools.
While the bills are generally consistent with the President's proposal for reform, we are concerned about a number of issues, including excessive authorization levels, the large number of unrequested programs, and other issues outlined below. I urge the conferees to produce a final bill that conforms as closely as possible to the President's proposal, and to the views expressed in this letter, and to do so as quickly as possible, so that States, school districts, administrators, teachers, parents, and others are given adequate time to begin the many, and major, changes the President has proposed, in a way that is as beneficial as possible to our nation's children.
Targeting Federal funds to disadvantaged children
I urge the conferees to ensure that, where the bills differ on the extent to which Federal funds and services are targeted toward economically disadvantaged children, the bill include the version that provides for greater, rather than less, targeting. For example, the Senate provisions are preferable with respect to targeting under the Enhancing Teacher Quality and 21st Century Community Learning Centers programs. The final bill should also avoid the use of mechanisms such as "hold harmless" provisions that generally guarantee school districts that they will continue to receive the same level of funding they have in the past, without regard to current need or numbers of children from low-income families. We should continue the Federal role of providing additional resources to students who most need them and who can most benefit from them. This principle applies to the large programs, such as Part A of Title I, as well as to smaller programs.
Empowering parents through parental choice and consent
Parental empowerment is one of the four key pillars of No Child Left Behind. I am therefore pleased that both bills would provide parents additional choices on where to send their children to school, and enable them to obtain supplemental educational services, from the provider of their choice, when their children's schools fail to perform adequately. The conferees should include the choice-related provisions from both bills to allow parents to make these decisions and to provide a solid base from which the Congress may further enhance parental choice in later legislation. Where the two bills include comparable provisions, such as in the availability of public-school choice and supplemental services for children in low-performing schools, the conferees should adopt the provision that gives those choices to parents sooner and that makes a greater proportion of funds available for activities and services, including transportation, that will make parental choice meaningful and more widely available.
The Administration is reviewing carefully language in the House-passed version of the bill that addresses the issue of parental consent as it applies to certain school-based surveys funded by a variety of Federal agencies. The Administration is eager to work with the conferees in developing language that protects parental rights while preserving the utility of surveys designed to help our nation's children. The integrity of surveys that provide important information about drug use and other issues depends on high response rates across demographic groups. At the same time, we want to make sure that parental rights are carefully protected.
Consolidation of current programs and creation of new programs
The President proposed to consolidate a long list of overlapping and duplicative programs, including numerous small and narrowly focused authorities that have accumulated over the years, into a handful of performance-based State formula grant programs. The President's proposal would provide greater flexibility to States and school districts to address their needs and situations, minimize the number of applications, evaluations, and regulations, and streamline the bureaucracies, at all levels of government, needed to administer multiple programs. The House and Senate bills make commendable efforts to increase flexibility in the major programs, but retain far too many of the smaller, fragmented programs that divert funds from more flexible authorities. The final bill should achieve greater program consolidation than either of the current versions, particularly among these smaller programs.
Both versions of the bill would create new programs that the President did not request, and that should not be included in the final bill. The Senate version authorizes more than 70 unrequested program authorities and the House version authorizes more than 20 programs that the President did not request. I urge the conferees to eliminate unrequested program authorities and enhance local flexibility.
Excessive authorization levels
The President's budget request for fiscal year 2002 provides significant increases for ESEA programs, reflecting the high priority the President has placed on education reform. Major increases are requested for key pillars of the President's No Child Left Behind proposal: Reading ($614 million), Title I grants to assist disadvantaged students ($459 million), Teacher Quality ($375 million), Assessments ($320 million), and Charter Schools ($160 million). Clearly, we are committed to increasing the Federal investment in education, but additional funds should support what works and be tied to accountability for results.
Unfortunately, the authorization levels in both the House and Senate versions of H.R. 1 are far in excess of what the President proposed, especially in the Senate bill. In fact, the Senate version authorizes $300 billion more than the President's budget for ESEA programs in the next 10 years, while the House bill authorizes more than $90 billion over the President's budget for the same period. Additionally, when including other authorized programs in the Senate bill, in particular IDEA, the Senate version authorizes more than $400 billion over the President's budget over the next 10 years. As the President has noted, while increased funding for education is justified, money alone does not improve student achievement. Resources should be allocated based on program performance, and should be committed as results are demonstrated and progress toward success is made. The Administration urges the inclusion of authorization levels that reflect the President's budget request.
Annual State assessments of reading and mathematics in grades 3 through 8
I am very pleased that both bills adopt the President's proposal that States administer annual tests in reading and math for all children in grades 3 through 8, and authorize substantial funding to help States develop the additional tests they will need. A centerpiece of No Child Left Behind, this proposal will provide parents the information they need to know how well their child is doing in school and how well the school is educating their child, and is critical to the success of education reform.
Recognizing that developing these additional assessments takes time and money, the President proposed giving States three years to put them into effect and included $320 million in his fiscal year 2002 budget (with annual increases in the future), to help States develop and use them. The Senate bill, however, departs from the President's proposal by giving States an extra year to develop these assessments, and by permitting States to delay or suspend administration of the new tests unless the Federal Government fully funds the amounts authorized for their development. Delaying these tests would significantly weaken efforts to improve student performance and create uncertainty among States and school districts about what tests they are expected to have in place and the timetable for doing so. These tests are the linchpin of the strengthened accountability systems called for by No Child Left Behind, and should not be subject to the vagaries of the appropriations process. The conferees should follow the House bill on these points.
The final bill should also make clear, as neither bill now does, that the reading and math tests used at the various grades within a State yield comparable data from grade to grade, in order to ensure that they provide parents and educators with information on how students are progressing over time. We would be pleased to work with you to achieve this result.
Finally, the bill should follow the House proposal to make bonus awards available to all States that develop their assessments ahead of the statutory schedule, as called for in No Child Left Behind, rather than making those awards available only to those States with the very best assessments, as provided by the Senate. If the underlying standards for those assessments are as rigorous as they should be, any State that develops assessments that meet those standards at least a year ahead of schedule should receive a bonus for doing so.
State participation in the National Assessment of Educational Progress
Another key element of No Child Left Behind that is related to the assessment of student achievement is the participation of States, as a condition of receiving funds under Title I of the ESEA, in annual testing of a sample of students on the 4th and 8th grade reading and mathematics assessments administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP is an independent testing system that is rigorous and widely respected, and in which more than 40 States currently participate every two years. The NAEP results would be used to corroborate the results reported by the States on their own assessments, and would be used by the Secretary, along with the State assessment results, to make bonus awards to States that make the most educational progress.
Requiring States to participate in the NAEP is an essential part of the Federal effort to ensure that States develop rigorous, meaningful accountability systems that truly "leave no child behind," and will help ensure that States do not set low achievement standards for their own assessments. The President has proposed that the Federal Government pay for the administration of State NAEP, and requested a $69 million increase in the NAEP budget for that purpose.
The House and Senate bills each contain language relating to NAEP that is inconsistent with the President's proposal and should not be included in the final bill. The House would permit each State to select an alternative to NAEP, so long as it meets certain criteria, and the Senate would require States to participate in NAEP only if the Federal Government pays 100 percent of the cost of their doing so over the next several years. These provisions should not be included in the final bill. The House provision would provide too great of an incentive for States to select tests that most closely track their own tests, defeating the purpose of requiring an independent confirmation of their tests, and making it difficult, if not impossible, to compare State achievement for the purpose of making rewards and imposing sanctions. The Senate provision would subject the vital requirement of State participation in annual NAEP tests to the vagaries of the annual appropriations process.
Adequate yearly progress and identification of low-performing schools
The House and Senate bills each adopt a version of the President's proposal to hold schools accountable for making adequate yearly progress (AYP), and for imposing an increasingly rigorous series of consequences on schools that fail, over a period of years, to make that progress. These include public school choice, the availability of supplemental services, and reconstitution or restructuring. Unfortunately, while the respective bills set out different criteria for identifying low-performing schools, each bill is substantially flawed on this critical point, and would result in the majority of schools being identified as failing. I urge the conferees to craft a definition of AYP that is as simple, flexible, and fair as possible, while being rigorous enough to ensure that schools are held accountable for the performance and progress of all students they serve. The Administration has been exploring possible approaches to resolving this fundamental issue with the conferees, and we look forward to continuing those discussions.
The expansion of charter schools is an important part of No Child Left Behind: they replace rules-based governance with performance-based accountability. In order to ensure the continued success and expansion of charter schools, the final bill should ensure that charter schools are subject to accountability requirements in a manner that avoids confusion and duplication of administration and accountability requirements, particularly in light of the fact that there are multiple chartering authorities in many States.
No Child Left Behind included a charter school "homestead fund" to support, through credit enhancement activities, the acquisition of facilities by charter schools, which the President's budget would fund at $175 million. I urge the conferees to include Senate language that authorizes these activities and creates incentives for States to establish and expand programs that provide facilities assistance to charter schools on a per-pupil basis.
No Child Left Behind proposed to allow "charter States and districts" to enter into performance agreements with the Federal Government, under which a State or district would be freed from many of the requirements of categorical Federal education programs in exchange for a commitment to reach high performance goals within five years. While neither the House nor the Senate adopted this idea to the extent envisioned by the President, each bill takes a step in that direction by including mechanisms to increase flexibility. The Senate bill would permit up to seven States and 25 school districts (in other States) to enter into performance agreements like those called for in No Child Left Behind. The House bill includes several provisions to enhance flexibility in spending ESEA funds, and authorizes performance agreements, similar to those in the Senate bill, for 100 districts (but no States). The final bill should make flexibility, in return for accountability, available to as many States and districts as possible; provide a variety of mechanisms for States and districts to exercise that flexibility; and tie the extent of flexibility to the extent of accountability. It should also include the House provision that permits districts to transfer funds among various ESEA programs.
The final bill should not include an authority for the Math and Science Partnerships. The President's budget provides funds for this program within the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the final bill should not create a duplicative program authority at the Department of Education.
The final bill should include language that requires school districts receiving funds from the Department of Education to provide the Boy Scouts of America the same access to their schools that they provide to other groups and organizations.
The final bill should also ensure that activities carried out under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program do not denigrate the religious views of students or their parents.
The President's No Child Left Behind proposals to promote teacher excellence included taking steps to better protect teachers from Federal liability arising out of their reasonable efforts to maintain discipline in the classroom. The Administration would prefer that any such language included in the final version of the bill be broadly inclusive, and apply not only to teachers, principals and other school professionals responsible for student safety, but also to school board members as well.
I urge the conferees to quickly agree on a bill that reflects the views expressed above, and stand ready to help in whatever way may be helpful.
The Office of Management and Budget advises that there is no objection to the submission of this report from the standpoint of the Administration's program.