Something for Teachers:
Bush's first major initiative is reforming U.S. education. In his very
first week in office Bush introduced a $47.6 billion plan he says will
help give American kids a better education. But what kinds of changes
will the Bush plan bring?
For one thing, the president's plan includes more standardized testing. Pencils ready? Students in grades 3-8 would be tested every year in reading and math.
But most of the changes would have to do with money that local school districts get from the federal government. Although most schools only get about 10 percent of their budget from Washington (the rest comes from taxes paid by local residents), the government can require schools to meet certain standards in order to receive the money.
Bush says schools that consistently fail to provide a good education (and don't boost their test scores) should lose their federal funding. He says he would give them a chance to improve, but eventually, if they don't shape up, they'd lose the money.
Instead, parents of students at failing schools would receive about $1,500, in the form of a voucher, or coupon, good towards tuition at a private or religious school.
Supporters of vouchers argue the option will put pressure on public schools to improve. Critics of vouchers argue the option takes money away from schools in desperate need of additional funding, and will only benefit a small number of students.
Other people point out that $1,500 is not even close to the full price of some private schools. Some parents couldn't afford tuition even with a government voucher.
The Wish List
Bush, and his Secretary of Education Rod Paige, also support charter schools. Like regular public schools, charter schools are free and open to anyone. But charter schools are managed independently of the local school district. Instead they are run by parent/teacher partnerships, community groups, universities and private companies.
Charter schools generally have a more flexible, creative approach to education although some offer very traditional educational focuses. Charter schools also can focus on specific programs, such as the arts or science, or can target specific types of students. Some charter schools are designed specifically for learning disabled students, others for those who speak English as a second language, and still others for students who have been charged with breaking the law.
In 2000, there were 1,800 registered charter schools in the U.S. Charter schools that don't provide a good education or misspend their money can be shut down by their state government.
A concern over charter schools is they often lack student diversity. Studies of charter schools show many tend to attract students of similar races, economics or academic achievement. Critics point to North Carolina, where two-thirds of the 33 charter schools operating have 85 percent black student populations.
Teachers hired at charter schools are less experienced and work for less money than those at traditional schools. Charter school teachers do not have to be certified by the state nor do they have to join the teachers' union.
The Not So Sure Thing
The Bush education plan has to be approved by Congress, and it looks like that won't be easy. The big issue is vouchers, which are opposed by many Democrats.
Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut (who was Al Gore's running mate in the election) is pushing a $35 billion Democratic plan to reform education. The Democrats' plan does not include vouchers. Moreover, some Congressional Republicans are drafting their own $17 billion plan for education reforms.
But some of Bush's suggested changes appear to have 100 percent support. Democrats and Republicans support Bush's $5 billion literacy program, which aims to make sure all students can read by the end of third grade. Bush's $5,000 education tax credit and his $8 billion scholarship and grants proposals are also widely supported.
Most politicians are eager to reach a compromise on education -- it's an issue that most voters say is one of their top concerns. President Bush is looking for an early legislative victory, and Congress is eager to prove that Democrats and Republicans can work together. So in one form or another, changes are coming. Maybe to a school near you.
What do you think? What can the government to do make schools better? Are vouchers a good thing? What should states do for students in failing schools?
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