WASHINGTON – President Bush plans to meet with lawmakers next week to boost efforts to renew the No Child Left Behind education law, according to a Democratic congressional aide.
The top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate committees that deal with education issues planned to attend the White House meeting Monday, the aide said on the condition of anonymity because the White House had not announced the session.
Monday is also the day the Bush administration is commemorating the fifth anniversary of what is widely considered the most significant federal education law in decades.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, said she was optimistic the law would be renewed for five more years. She said it is a natural issue on which Bush and Democrats, who won control of Congress in November, can come together.
"It's on everybody's list of things where we might forge agreement as we have done before," she said.
The law seeks to ensure that all children can read and do math at grade level by 2014, which has placed unprecedented demands on schools. They have been required to step up testing, raise teacher quality and place more attention on the achievements of minority children.
Poor schools that get federal aid but do not make enough progress must provide tutoring, offer public school choice to students or initiate other reforms such as overhauling their staffs.
Spellings said there were a few "bright-line principles" that the administration would not agree to alter under a rewrite of the law. Among them is the requirement that all students are proficient in reading and math by 2014 — a goal many observers call unrealistic.
Spellings said the administration was open to debating how student achievement should be measured. Critics, including the teachers' unions, have said the current law does not give enough credit to schools that make significant strides in student achievement but fall short of reaching an annual target.
"There is too much punishing going on," said Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country. Weaver also called the law "grossly underfunded."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who are to lead the committees overseeing education, say the administration has provided about $50 billion less than originally called for by Congress.
Republicans say it is common practice for legislation to be funded at less than the full level Congress authorizes.
Spellings declined to preview the amount Bush would seek when he releases his annual budget in February. She did indicate an interest in getting more money to teachers who work in schools that have difficulty attracting people.
Bush sought $500 million from Congress for that purpose last year and got about $100 million.
"Our best teachers, or are most experienced teachers, are in places with our least challenged learners," Spellings said.
Spellings also reaffirmed the administration's view that the law, which focuses on early and middle grades, should be expanded in high schools.