Originally created 02/03/01

Education agenda a surprise



Democrats were all geared up for a mighty war against President Bush's education program, which he introduced last week as his first major policy proposal. They apparently thought all it contained was a plan for vouchers.

You can't blame them really. For weeks, leading up to the meeting with congressional leaders, including top Democrats, that was about the only aspect of the new administration's proposal the media reported on.

Oddly, that may have been a good thing because Democrats were surprised and, for the most part, pleased at what they heard. There was no mention of vouchers, though there was talk of providing options for low-income families with kids trapped in chronically failing public schools.

Basically, Bush's "leave no child behind" agenda focuses on programs to improve schools in poverty districts - not abandoning them. His most important proposal stresses early literacy by making grants available to states for preschool, Head Start and first and second grade reading programs.

These are programs Democrats have championed for years, and though there's still room for nitpicking, they will probably endorse most of the administration's program, which also calls for accountability and results: all children reading by third grade, and state (not national) testing of students in grades 3 through 8.

States and districts would also have wider latitude in how they use federal funds; for instance, being allowed to spend more on teacher training and charter schools.

If the federal government is to get more involved in public schools - historically the domain of states and localities - then Bush's agenda is as good as any.

We hope it works, although we don't support boosting the feds' share of public education funding beyond the current seven percent, or budgeting more taxpayer billions to the Department of Education.

This is, after all, the same agency that couldn't tell auditors last year where $40 billion went. Students aren't alone in needing to be held accountable.