Education bill raises stakes

Associated Press

HAMILTON, Ohio — President Bush sat at a school desk Tuesday and signed the most far-reaching federal education bill in nearly four decades, a $26 billion plan to broaden academic testing, triple spending for literacy programs and help children escape America’s worst public schools.

"We’ve spent billions of dollars with lousy results," the president said. "Now it’s time to spend billions of dollars and get good results."

The most immediate changes will appear next school year when children in some 3,000 poorly performing schools will be eligible for taxpayer-financed tutoring or other educational services. The money can go to private companies and religious institutions.

Children in an additional 6,700 failing schools will be eligible for transfers to more successful public schools, and federal money could pay for their transportation.

A new regime of student tests in math, reading and science will begin to take effect in fall 2005, identifying more failing schools that could lose federal money as students take advantage of the new options.

To students who don’t like taking tests, Bush said, "Too bad, because we need to know" whether the schools are working.

The education bill authorizes the federal government to spend $26.5 billion, though the actual amount spent will be somewhat less. The current budget is $18.5 billion.

The bill requires annual state tests in reading and mathematics for every child in grades three through eight, beginning in fall 2005. Science tests will be added in three grades that same year.

Under current law, states are required to test students in reading and math — once in elementary school, once in middle school and once in high school.

Schools whose scores fail to improve two years in a row could receive more federal money to help improve skills. If scores still don’t improve, low-income students can receive tutoring or transportation to other public schools. Schools that fail to improve for six years could have staff changes forced upon them.

The bill also triples money for literacy programs to $1 billion per year. It sets a 12-year goal to improve academic proficiency of students who are poor, who speak limited English or have various disabilities.

Copyright ©2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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