No Child Left Behind Impacts Local Schools

By Deb Fowlks

Just three days after taking office in January 2001, George W. Bush announced “No Child Left Behind,” his framework for bipartisan education reform. Bush described No Child Left Behind as “the cornerstone of my Administration.” Less than a year later, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB Act) was passed.

Under the NCLB of 2001, states must improve the quality of their schools from year to year. It is based on the goal that all children will be proficient in reading and math by 2014. The percentage of students proficient in reading and math must grow until the schools reach 100 percent proficiency. In addition to meeting the guidelines set forth by the federal government, schools must also meet state standards.

Superintendent of Avon Schools, Alene Reuschel, said NCLB is not entirely realistic: “To say that every child in the United States has to be able to read at a certain level by this date (2014) is unrealistic.”

Critics of the law argue that the federal grading system is unfair in some cases because it requires yearly progress not just from a school, but from every subgroup of students, including those with disabilities or who speak English as a second language.

Reuschel explained that NCLB takes high-stakes testing to a new level: “Is there a place for testing? Absolutely. Is there a place for standards? Absolutely, absolutely. There should no longer be the big disparities as there were maybe 50, 75 years ago between urban versus rural schools. We’ve closed that gap. With media, technology, we’ve closed that gap. But, it’s also fair to say that everybody deserves a good, sound, basic education. But, what is that? Define that. And, our state has.”

According to Legal, the No Child Left Behind Act has fallen under much criticism since its passage, with particular focus on inadequate funding. From 2002 through 2004, Congress authorized between $26.4 billion and $32 billion to be spent on the No Child Left Behind initiative. The president’s 2004 budget proposal would underfund the act by $9 billion, leaving local communities to make up the difference.

Reuschel said, “We’ve been underfunded for how long? I think the question is, this is the age-old dilemma. It’s all well and good to say….and I’m not disputing that the intent or the spirit of the law is necessarily bad. I think the methodology is flawed. And, I think there’s a difference there. But, it’s no different than what we have happening here in our own state. We have, for how long, been underfunded? A classic example is transportation. We’re supposed to get support for transportation. As of late we’ve been getting 85 cents on the dollar. Now, wait a minute. It says we are supposed to be earmarked for certain funds at 100 percent, but we get 85 cents and we’re told we should be happy because we’re getting 85 cents. Excuse me, we’re supposed to get a dollar. What that forces us to do is take our local tax money that could be earmarked for a good program and we have to take that 15 cents out of the dollar and pay to make those bills up. So, then everybody gets hurt. When we think about this unfunded mandate, I say, what did the federal government do that they haven’t already seen in their counterparts, the states. The question becomes, ‘Who has responsibility for education?’ And that’s a constitution issue that I’m not going to go into.”

Federal funding aside, Illinois ranks 48th in funding for schools.