Out of Control Policy Blog

No Child Left Behind R.I.P.: A Balloon Payment that will Never Come Due

The New York Times reports:

The Obama administration is proposing a sweeping overhaul of President Bush’s signature education law, No Child Left Behind, and will call for broad changes in how schools are judged to be succeeding or failing, as well as for the elimination of the law’s 2014 deadline for bringing every American child to academic proficiency.

The 2014 deadline which requires that all states have students that are 100 percent proficient is a balloon payment that the states were never planning to pay. In California, for example, in 2010 the state still does not require that even 50 percent of students are proficient in reading and math to meet the federal benchmark of "adequate yearly progress." The states were counting on a change in administration long before the 2014 deadline.

In 2001, I predicted that No Child Left Behind would make little difference in student achievement in a Reason magazine feature, Schoolhouse Crock. What I wrote back in 2001 holds true. Billions of dollars later, most indicators for student achievement and graduation rates remain flat. 

The new federal budget calls for an increase of $3 billion in education funding. The budget gives some indicator of where the Obama Administration may go with No Child Left Behind. They may move toward more competitive grants like Race to the Top. As U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said about the budget:

"Race to the Top taught us that competition and incentives drive reform," said Duncan. "So even as we continue funding important formula programs like Title I and IDEA, we are adding money to competitive programs that are changing the landscape of our education system."

Unfortunately, the new list of education programs funded by the $3 billion seem a little short on competition and look like the same old urge to create new programs rather than save money and reallocate existing funding to new priorities. It looks like more of the same heavy spending and creating new legacy programs rather than allocating existing resources more flexibly. Judge for yourself:

  • $539 million for innovative teacher and leader reforms such as performance pay, bringing the total to $950 million, and $269 million for teacher and leader recruitment and preparation, bringing the total to $405 million.
  • $354 million for school turnaround grants, bringing the total up to $900 million.
  • $250 million for special education students, bringing the IDEA Grants to States total to $11.755B
  • $210 million for Promise Neighborhoods, a new competitive grant program modeled on the Harlem Children's Zone that combines comprehensive social services with school improvements in order to transform whole neighborhoods.
  • $197 million for programs designed to promote a well-rounded education, supporting comprehensive literacy, STEM and other core subjects including history and arts.
  • $81 million for expanding educational options, including at total of $365.5 million in funding for charter and other autonomous schools.
  • $50 million for English Language Learner Programs, bringing the total amount up to $800 million.
  • $45 million for school safety and student health programs for a total of $410 million under a new funding stream called Successful, Safe and Healthy Students.
  • $98 million for Historically Black Colleges and Universities
  • $96.57 million for Hispanic Serving Institutions, and other Minority Serving institutions

Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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