NCLB: The high cost of broken promises

What's a promise worth?

When it comes to the No Child Left Behind Act, a promise is worth more than $9 billion--and counting. Thatís the level of underfunding U.S. students and public schools have suffered thus far, based on what Congress authorized for NCLB and what itís actually delivered.

"There are lots of things that are unclear about NCLB, but one thing was always crystal clear--Congress and the administration promised time and time again that they would provide the funding needed to help students reach higher achievement levels," says Charlotte Fraas, AFT legislation director. "The funding just hasnít happened as promised."

Massive numbers like $9 billion can be tough to put into context. But consider what public schools could do with just an additional $500 million--fewer than 6 cents on every dollar promised but not delivered. Just that $500 million could:

* Fund class size reduction that would affect more than 570,000 students;
* Provide summer school for more than 450,000 students;
* Bring research-based reading programs to more than 1.12 million students;
* Pay for extended-year kindergarten for more than 263,000 students; and
* Allow more than 357,000 public school students to attend smaller high schools.

In fact, all of these options could be paid for if the administration and Congress paid just a quarter on every dollar promised but not delivered.

The disconnection between high expectations and low funding is not going unnoticed. The media also are beginning to pick up on this key weakness in NCLB. "Nobody has figured out how any of this will be paid for," Desert Morning News (Utah) columnist Doug Robinson recently wrote in a column detailing the daunting challenges imposed on schools under the law. "Essentially, the federal government ordered schools to [make adequate yearly progress targets], and when somebody asked how, the feds said, ĎSearch me.í Anyone for a bake sale?"

But the AFT has always been clear on the "how" portion-on the promises made by Congress and the administration when NCLB came into law. "The implementation problems with NCLB are difficult to begin with," says AFT president Sandra Feldman. "Denying the promised funding is an exercise in cynicism."

"The AFT will keep fighting hard, not just to expose and change the underlying flaws in the law, but for the funding teachers and paraprofessionals need to make its still worthy goals work for kids."

American Teacher
December 2003/January 2004--NCLB Watch