By Gary L. Allen
Teachers, principals, parents, and others who work with Ohio's schoolchildren and who read Rep. John Boehner's, R-West Chester, guest column "Education act far from unfunded mandate" (May 4), might think they live and work in a parallel universe. That's because Boehner's representation of school funding and conditions in Ohio's schools are far from reality for educators and students.
Unfortunately, Boehner continues the false claim that the state has more than enough money to pay for the rigid demands of the so-called "No Child Left Behind" education law. This federal law requires states and school districts to develop and administer standardized tests in reading and math and punishes schools that don't show "adequate yearly progress" on their test scores.
But anyone who has been in Ohio's public schools lately knows the money just isn't there to maintain what we presently offer - let alone implement new federal mandates. Ohio is close to the bottom in the share of school funding the state provides, and the current budget crisis isn't helping.
Voters in more than half of the local school districts with levies on the recent ballot voted down additional property tax hikes to make up the difference. This state and local funding crunch has already forced schools across the state to lay off teachers, trim time for instruction and professional development, and cut back on courses in areas such as arts, music, social studies, and foreign languages. Estimates indicate at least 3,000 school positions will be lost to the current school funding crisis and that is a travesty for quality education.
Ohio's voters agree that school funding is inadequate. The Ohio Education Association recently commissioned a voter survey of Ohio citizens and the results show that 73 percent of voters agree with the four Supreme Court rulings that the funding system for Ohio public schools is unconstitutional and 72 percent believe that the state legislature is paying too little attention to public education.
The pressure from "No Child Left Behind" is making Ohio's acute school funding crisis worse. The law is an unfunded federal mandate that costs Ohio's taxpayers at least $1 billion per year.
If this money were going to things children really need - smaller classes, quality teachers and staff, early childhood intervention, up-to-date materials and technology - it might be worth the sacrifice. But the so-called "No Child Left Behind" federal mandate actually diverts existing state and local funds from classrooms to pay for more bureaucracy, paperwork, and standardized testing. And in Ohio, those funds are far too scarce as it is.
This federally-mandated law also uses a one-size-fits-all approach to evaluating schools and students. Educators know that children learn at different rates and in different ways, but rather than helping each child receive the individualized attention he or she needs, the law relies too much on standardized tests to measure annual progress in student learning. According to a recent poll by the National PTA, eight out of 10 parents oppose using testing as the only factor to measure student progress, thus rejecting this one-size-fits-all approach.
Ohio's educators are working hard to achieve the goals of the federal "No Child Left Behind" - high standards and expectations for all of our children, regardless of their background or abilities. But especially during a time of severe budget crisis, the federal government shouldn't be telling us what we have to do when it is not providing the resources needed to comply with the law.
Accountability is a two-way street that must be shared not just by schools, students and those who work in education, but also by policymakers and legislators. While many understood that President Bush had promised to support full funding for "No Child Left Behind" programs, his budget requests and the actual funding approved by Congress have fallen far short of the promised amounts.
That's why state Sen. Greg DiDonato, D-New Philadelphia, has called on the president and Congress to fully fund the federal mandates of "No Child Left Behind." Legislators in more than 20 other states are taking similar action to protest the unfunded and unworkable mandate.
Clearly, the president and Congress are not keeping their promises to children, to parents, to their communities and public education. It's time for them to step up to the plate by fixing and funding NCLB so that our children get the resources and attention they need to learn and become fully participating and productive citizens.
Gary L. Allen is the president of the Ohio Education Association.
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