Chalk up another victory for President Bush. The Senate's lopsided vote 91-8 in favor of his education legislation last week sends a bipartisan message that improved public schools are a priority, even if the bill doesn't do everything it should.
Although the measure does not contain provisions for vouchers, so crucial to Mr. Bush's push for parental choice, it does provide some accountability, flexibility and local control. Along with the $1.3 trillion tax cut he signed into law recently, the education bill is one for the win column for his first year in office.
The measure requires states to test students on their reading and math skills in grades three to eight and once in high school. Schools are held accountable for the results. Those that fail would be penalized and have to change curriculum and staff. The students would be able to transfer to other public schools. Continued school failure could result in additional penalties, including a switch to charter status or direct control by either the state or a private company.
The bill as passed by the Senate isn't all the president and most families would have liked. In addition to removing his voucher plan, which would have given parents more choice over the schools for their children, it's more than twice as expensive.
Mr. Bush's proposal had a price tag of $19 billion, which the House increased to $24 billion in its version. The Senate wants to spend $41. 8 billion. Many of the additional dollars would be used on programs for poor children, immigrant children and those with disabilities.
The legislation also doesn't provide a much-needed single standard, such as the National Assessment of Educa-tional Progress, but lets each state set up its own tests based on national standards. Instead of giving parents an important measuring tool, it waters down a key element.
Nevertheless, the bill's passage represents some progress. Once this rough draft becomes law, the president and his supporters can come back and strengthen it to really accomplish the job of improving education in this country.
-- Savannah Morning News
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