President Bush said Thursday that renewing the No Child Left Behind law will be a priority for him next year but acknowledged the law isn't working as well for parents as it should.
The law requires schools that get federal poverty aid and fall short of their yearly progress goals for two straight years to offer transfers to students. After three years of failure, schools must offer low-income parents a choice of tutors.
Bush acknowledged, however, that those promises to parents aren't working as they should.
For example, many schools report their test scores late. So many parents don't find out that their children have a right to transfer until a new school year has begun.
"It kind of looks like people are afraid to put out results for some reason," Bush said in a speech at the Woodridge Elementary and Middle Campus, a thriving charter school in a run-down neighborhood five miles from the White House. "And so we'll work with Congress to clarify the law and to strengthen the law to make sure our parents get timely information and useful information."
Of more than 2.2 million children eligible for tutoring, only 19 percent of them got it in 2004-05, according to auditors at the congressional Government Accountability Office.
Even fewer kids take advantage of the option to transfer to another school — about 1 or 2 percent of those eligible, according to national estimates.
It is unsurprising that Bush would tout the No Child Left Behind law, considered the centerpiece of his first-term domestic agenda. As a matter of timing, though, making the law's renewal a priority could be significant.
The law is scheduled to be reauthorized by Congress next year, but some education observers have speculated it may be bumped until as late as 2009, after the next presidential election.
The sooner the better — that's the view among dozens of education groups that are seeking changes in the law, such as how kids are tested and how schools are graded.
Bush outlined a series of ways in which the law could be improved, such as by expanding testing in high schools, an idea he has pitched to Congress for two years. He also said he wants the federal government to pay for 28,000 low income students across the country to transfer to private schools, an initiative he has in the current budget request at a cost of $100 million.
His comments come after Education Secretary Margaret Spellings recently told reporters that that law is "like Ivory soap: It's 99.9 percent pure or something." Spellings later said she was referring to the core principles of the law and is willing to consider improvements to the law.
The law was passed with support of some leading Democrats who now say Bush has not provided enough funding to carry out the goals. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., said he welcomes the opportunity to "get these essential reforms back on track."
"This administration and the Republican Congress have turned the No Child Left Behind Act into a political slogan rather than the solemn oath it was intended to be to our nation's students, parents, and teachers," Kennedy said.