Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who has represented Massachusetts in the United States Senate since 1962, is one of the authors of the No Child Left Behind Act.
We are at a crossroads in education. The improvement needs of schools are widespread and deep. We have created a workable school reform plan in the No Child Left Behind Act. The question is whether we will fund the Act and live up to its promise—or walk away from public education.
Too often, student achievement is needlessly low. Thirty-seven percent of 4th graders cannot read at a "basic level" and 68% are not "proficient" readers. Over the last 25 years, average reading scores across all grades have not improved. Our 8th graders rank lower than students in 17 other countries in math and science achievement.
A persistent achievement gap exists for African-American and Latino students. The gap narrowed in the 1970s and 1980s, but it has not improved since then, and it has grown in some communities.
Public schools are desperate for resources. One hundred and twenty-seven billion dollars in school construction and repair needs are not being met. Over 50,000 uncertified, untrained, unqualified teachers are teaching in America's classrooms. Schools serving low-income and minority students are four to five times more likely than other schools to have unqualified teachers.
Appalling disparities exist in school finance. The difference in school funding between Virginia's Arlington and Hanover counties, for example, is $200,000 per classroom. A six year old in Arlington County can look forward to over $2 million more in public education services than a six year old growing up in Hanover County.
Two years ago, President Bush agreed with us that our schools needed major reform and should get the resources necessary to do the job right. Many of us believed that reforming schools on a shoestring budget could not possibly succeed, and many others felt that throwing more resources at schools without reform would be a waste of money. In the No Child Left Behind Act, we reached a clear agreement on specific resources for specific reforms.
We raised academic standards for all students. We required a fully qualified teacher in every classroom within four years. We provided for quality, diagnostic testing of students in grades 3 through 8, in order to identify learning needs early—to tell parents how their children were doing individually and in comparison to their peers—and to hold schools accountable for the performance of all children.
We agreed to provide funds for supplemental services and after-school training for children. We agreed to an unprecedented targeting of resources on the neediest children in the neediest areas.
We achieved agreement on these reforms, because we promised resources for these reforms. In fact, we did not complete action on the legislation until the clear promise of resources was obtained. Unfortunately, what is now clear is that the promise of resources is being broken.
In the Senate, we will soon act on the education funding bill, based on an overall budget crafted solely by Republicans. Shamefully, it contains a litany of broken promises on education. We intend to fight to improve it, and to ask our colleagues to vote on specific issues to fulfill the promises of the No Child Left Behind Act.