Money Matters in Education

By Luz Borrero

Vol. 25, No. 1-4, 2003 p. 3

The Southern Regional Council has long advocated full government responsibility in providing equal access to high quality education. This fundamental duty directly affects the lives of most minority and low-income children and youth. State and federal government must commit the necessary revenues and support to ensure that all children receive the same quality education that middle and upper class students do.

The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, legislation to improve the basic skills of the approximately 47 million U. S. public school students, presents more obstacles than support for struggling children and schools. The Act focuses heavily on penalties for low-performing schools and offers little assistance to help those schools improve. No Child Left Behind mandates that states develop and implement accountability plans for academic performance and measure student progress through annual statewide testing. Schools can fall short of performance standards and risk losing federal funding if not enough students take the text. School populations are divided into subgroups by race, ethnicity, income, disability, and limited fluency in English. If less than 95 percent of any subgroup completes the tests, the school is not making adequate progress. In Georgia this year, 846 schools-42 percent of Georgia's public schools-failed to make adequate progress. More than 60 percent of those "failing" schools failed because of insufficient participation. If a Title I school fails to meet "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP) standards for two consecutive years, under federal law, the school is placed on a "Needs Improvement List." It is required to offer supplemental tutoring services, and its students are eligible to transfer to a higher-performing school at the expense of the school district or the school will face restructuring and ultimately the state take over of the school.

According to the Congressional Research Service, full funding of Title I programs, that reach 12.5 million high poverty students, would require $30.39 billion dollars for the 2003-2004 school year. Congress, however, authorized only $16 billion for Title I. Even this small amount was rejected by President Bush whose budget included only $11.3 billion to cover the costs of Title I programs. If we truly want our children to succeed, if we truly want "no child left behind," we must provide schools with the resources they need to educate our young people, not concentrate on what will happen to under-funded schools when their students do not succeed.

According to a recent General Accounting Office report, if states use tests that blend multiple choice questions with open-ended questions, the cost to states will amount to $5.3 billion from now until 2008. To support states in this process, Congress has appropriated only $2.7 billion, leaving struggling state governments to fill in the gaps.

The implementation of the twelve-year strategy presented in the No Child Left Behind Act has turned to the effectiveness of state-developed plans. These plans must meet accountability requirements by school year 20132014, demonstrating that all students are proficient in reading and math. States and school districts that do not comply risk losing their federal funding. At a time when educators are struggling to comply with the imposed tougher academic standards and facing potential sanctions for "failing schools," states must provide the resources to break down the barriers that prevent children in poverty from receiving a high quality education.

According to the Georgia Department of Education's preliminary report on schools that did not meet state testing goals, seventy-eight Title I schools in sixteen school systems are currently subject to sanctions under the No Child Left Behind Act. In addition, forty-eight schools in eleven public school systems will be subject to sanctions if they fail to meet the AYP standards for a second year. Sanctions include allowing students to transfer to another public school in the system.

The Southern Regional Council intends to closely monitor the consequences of the No Child Left Behind Act that places a lesser emphasis on adequate funding and greater emphasis on sanctioning schools that don't meet standards. With adequate funding of public schools, low-income students are capable of performing at the level of upper and middle-class students. Minority children can learn as well as white children. We must insist on the allocation of public resources to enable that success.

Luz Borrero is the executive director of the Southern Regional Council.