Canton Repository


Taft, Regula endorse Bush education plan 

Repository Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — President Bush’s education plan is more about standards, accountability and testing than vouchers, according to Gov. Bob Taft, U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula and other top Ohio lawmakers.

Although the federal government pays only 7 percent of the elementary-secondary schools bill, the Bush plan would require yearly testing of students from the third through eighth grades to determine if they are learning. Schools that fail to make progress would receive federal assistance after the first year. But if they still failed to improve after three years, their students would be eligible for vouchers to attend other public
or private schools. The states where those schools are located also could lose some federal funding as a result.

Taft endorsed the proposal Friday after he and other governors from both major parties emerged from a closed-door meeting with Bush.

‘‘I am very supportive of the president’s plan overall,’’ Taft said. ‘‘It aligns with what we’re trying to do to establish higher standards, a better system of assessments and a better way of holding educators
accountable for results in the state.’’

In fact, Taft said the Bush proposal ‘‘aligns almost completely with our plan,’’ the school improvement package developed by the Governor’s Commission for Student Success. The commission’s plan, introduced recently in the state Legislature, also would require yearly testing of students.

Taft said Ohio would benefit from the Bush package because it would expand federal support for special education, provide aid to develop state assessment tests, add dollars for early reading intervention programs and give the state more flexibility in spending federal funds for teacher training and preparation.

‘‘It reinforces our efforts to implement the recommendations of our commission,’’ he said.

Bush said he will increase spending on education but he has not provided a price tag for his plan.

The Bush package also would require test results to be broken out according to race, gender, disability, socio-economic status and other groupings to make sure all students are making progress.

‘‘I think that is very important,’’ said Susan Tave Zelman, Ohio superintendent of public instruction. Breaking out results that way is currently illegal in Ohio. She would like to change that.

The only way to close the achievement gap between different groups of students in Ohio is ‘‘to first define the problem’’ through testing, she said. Ohio congressmen who will play a key role in moving the Bush package through Congress stressed the accountability provisions.

‘‘It’s designed to have accountability so that parents know whether or not their child is getting every opportunity he or she should have,’’ said Regula, R-Bethlehem Township. ‘‘I give the president high marks for his commitment to ensuring that schools deliver the kind of programs that children need.’’

Regula supports the plan overall, but he expects to have questions for Secretary of Education Roderick Paige that could lead to changes. As chairman of an Appropriations subcommittee responsible for school
funding, Regula will help decide how much money Congress spends on the plan if it is approved.

Another key mover from Ohio is Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester, chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee. Boehner’s committee will scrutinize the Bush proposal and make changes before deciding whether to send it to the full House for a vote.

Boehner fully backs the plan, but he added, ‘‘There’s going to be changes, additions.’’

After a meeting with Bush on Thursday, Boehner said, ‘‘My job is to help the president enact his agenda. And that means sometimes carrying his water, sometimes giving the White House advice about problems that we have to resolve.’’ Regula also attended that meeting with the president.

So far, vouchers have been the most controversial aspect of the plan. But Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy in the Brookings Institution, said they would affect few students even if that provision passes. Vouchers probably won’t pass because of opposition from Democrats and moderate Republicans, he added.

Taft declined to commit to the voucher provision.

‘‘I think we’re going to have to wait and see what kind of form that comes down ... in before we make a decision on that,’’ he said.

Regula opposes widespread use of vouchers, which he fears will drain resources from public education. But he is open to limited use of vouchers in the Bush proposal.

‘‘When you use the term voucher, it immediately gives the impression you’re going to have a wholesale system of vouchers, and that is not the intent of this program,’’ he said. Regula added that the voucher provision ‘‘needs to be refined.’’

While the full details of the Bush plan still are to be worked out, it apparently will require states to test students each year.

That would represent ‘‘a little bit’’ of an increase in federal control over schools, which are operated and funded primarily by states and local districts, Loveless said.

‘‘The federal government never before has been in the role of dictating testing,’’ he added. ‘‘At the very least they are dictating how often the tests would be given,’’ he said.

Taft and Regula, however, do not view the Bush plan as increasing federal control.

‘‘States don’t have to accept federal money,’’ Taft said. ‘‘In return for the money that is coming, I think it’s entirely appropriate for the federal government to insist on some accountability.’’ Taft looks forward
‘‘to the challenge of being held accountable with regard to the federal dollars that come into our state, which are important monies,’’ he said.

Regula said rather than increasing federal control, ‘‘the idea is to stimulate through a program of evaluation the local schools to respond and give parents ... information’’ on students’ achievement. ‘‘I think the real goal is to get parents to insist on getting better programs.’’