COLUMN: Feds seek to cut educational programs

So I was reading the news this weekend, and I came upon something interesting I thought I would pass along to the readers of the Democratic Dish. It seems that pretty soon an education bill will come up for a vote in Congress.

A summary has been issued by Republicans that describes some of the things that are covered in the bill. The draft shows a reduction in the number of federal education programs from the current 55 to 45. Also, underprivileged students in weak schools would be allowed to use federal funds for private tutoring, summer school and other programs of that nature.

The lawmakers who wrote the final details of the bill include Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H., Reps. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and George Miller, D-Calif. The four lawmakers, who have been in closed-door conferences for months, met on Tuesday and are expected to present their proposal to the House and Senate later in the week.

Other issues remain to be resolved, among them a Democratic demand for more money than Republicans and the administration have agreed to provide, particularly for a program for special education students.

Even with problems, agreement on the issues of testing and the flexibility of funding would clear big barriers and give a big drive to clear the bill through Congress before ending for the year. Both houses approved education measures by overwhelming margins earlier this year.

At their heart, the two versions are quite similar, calling for students to be tested once a year and requiring schools to show improvement in student performance over a period of several years. Federal help would be accessible to help schools get better, but if they failed to meet standards, they could be taken over by the state.

At the same time, the bills differed on several key issues. The Senate bill required states to give one federally approved exam, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, to measure student performance. The House passed measure-permitted states to use an alternative, a provision designed to satisfy conservative concerns about the federal government role in education.

Under the compromise, the NAEP test would be given to a trial group of fourth- and eighth-grade students in each state every other year. The results of the trial group would verify "the results of the statewide assessments all students would take," the GOP summary says.

"No federal rewards or sanctions would be based on NAEP," according to the text.

Rewards and sanctions would be based on state-designed tests administered annually to students in grades three through eight. Also, seven states and 150 local school districts would be chosen to participate in demonstration projects granting "additional flexibility in the use of federal funds," according to the GOP summary. Both the House and Senate bills contained provisions permitting the use of federal funds for additional assistance in cases of poor students in weak schools. But Bush's original proposal to permit federal funds to be used to pay tuition at a private school was thrown out long ago.

What's the point of this column? I want to know what they plan to do about high schools and colleges. Where is the mention of college educations? There isn't one. I read a couple of articles about this education bill and it sounds to me as if college students are getting the shaft. Which is truly sad considering that a college education is important to the economy of the United States. We need a productive and intelligent workforce, and it won't be there if a college education isn't involved.

I know testing and early education are important but so is a college degree. I believe a part of the bill should focus on more funding for college students, including grants and scholarships. I hope legislators feel the same way and some more money goes into the education bill for that purpose. I guess we will just have to wait and see.

Write to Courtney at


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