Bush, lawmakers meet to plan next phase of No Child Left Behind

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WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush pushed for renewal of the No Child Left Behind education law Monday in a meeting with congressional leaders but was noncommittal on their request for more money to help schools meet the law’s requirements.

“In our discussions today, we’ve all agreed to work together to address some of the major concerns that some people have on this piece of legislation, without weakening the essence of the bill,” Bush said following the White House meeting with Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

The law seeks to ensure all children can read and do math at grade level by 2014, which has placed many new demands on schools. They have had to step up testing, boost teacher quality and pay more attention to the achievements of minority children.

Schools that get federal aid but do not make enough progress must provide tutoring, offer public school choice to students or initiate other reforms such as overhauling their staffs.

First Lady Laura Bush, a former teacher and school librarian, and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings attended the meeting Monday, a day the Bush administration chose to mark the fifth anniversary of the law.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. – who chair committees overseeing education – said they urged the president to propose funding increases for the law. Bush made no commitments, according to a congressional aide who was briefed on the discussions and spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.

Democrats, who won control of Congress in November, say the administration and Republican lawmakers have underfunded the law by about $50 billion, compared to what was originally called for. Republicans say it is common practice for legislation to be funded at less than the full level.

While partisan sniping over the law has been common in recent years, the lawmakers attending Monday’s meeting struck a bipartisan note and pledged to work together to get the law renewed for five more years. The united front is part of a strategy to fend off critics who want to see the law scrapped or drastically changed.

“This issue now has its detractors and those that are opposed to it. That’s true in the Democratic party and the Republican party,” Kennedy said.

Spellings listed a few areas of concern that came up during Monday’s meeting. They included how to test special education and limited-English speaking students, a desire to give schools credit for progress even when they fall short of annual targets and ways to get students access to high-quality free tutoring.

Spellings also indicated she was willing to consider providing financial incentives to states that want to align their standards with more rigorous ones in place elsewhere.

The administration, and Republicans generally, have consistently resisted anything that resembles national standards dictating what students across the country should know and learn.

“I think anytime there’s a carrot approach, as opposed to a stick for continuing to raise the bar, I think that will be well received,” Spelling said.

The No Child Left Behind law has pushed some states to weaken their standards to avoid consequences that arise when schools miss annual targets.

Kennedy and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., have introduced legislation addressing the issue. The National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union, has endorsed Dodd’s bill calling for voluntary national standards.



On the Net:

Education Department background on the law:

http://www.ed.gov/nclb/landing.jhtml



Associated Press writer Ben Feller contributed to this report.

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