Clinton School Accountability Plan Draws Skepticism
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
President Clinton's State of the Union proposal to demand greater accountability of public schools in return for federal dollars is getting more boos than cheers from the groups that shape federal education policy.
"We don't want to see a program in which state and local school districts are held hostage to standards set in Washington," said Bill McCarthy, a spokesman for the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, a Republican- controlled panel that would have to okay Clinton's plan.
Patricia Sullivan, the director of education legislation at the National Governors Association, said an increased federal role in local schools will spell confusion for the states.
"One of the hardest parts of my job is explaining to people that anything you plan to do in education, you have to plan to do in 50 different ways and at the local level it is even more diverse," Sullivan told stateline.org.
In his State of the Union Speech, Clinton said he would ask Congress to approve a new education bill "that for the first time holds states and school districts accountable for progress and rewards them for results."
Clinton's speech came on the heels of numerous gubernatorial inaugural addresses and State-of-the-State messages describing education reform as a paramount priority.
He said Congress should impose a new set of guidelines that would, among other things, require states and school districts to end social promotions, train teachers better and improve or close poor performing schools in return for federal school aid.
"Each year, the national government invests more than $15 billion in our public schools. I believe we must change the way we invest that money, to support what works and to stop supporting what doesn't," Clinton said.
Federal school aid is but a tiny fraction about six percent of the $300 billion that states and local school districts spend each year on public education. Much of the money comes from local property taxes.
"States are already setting up their own standards and assessments to meet their own priorities," McCarthy said. He added that Clinton's proposal could be "a one-size-fits-all solution that doesn't necessarily respect what is happening at the state level."
One favorable review of Clinton's plan came from the head of the nation's largest teachers' union, National Education Association president Bob Chase.
"What the Administration is saying here is that we want to promote what we know will work - fund those programs that are successful. I don't think it is intrusion. In all these instances the states are creating these programs," Chase said.
Governors throughout the country have been beating the drums for education reform.
From Indiana, where Democratic Gov. Frank O'Bannon has called for all-day kindergarten to South Carolina, where Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges began his first day in office in a classroom to signal his determination to lift his state from dead last in SAT scores, education is topic A.
In California, the legislature is meeting in special session to deal with education reform. Gov. Gray Davis, the state's first Democratic governor in more than a decade, wants children to read earlier, more training for teachers and principals and exit exams established as a rite of passage for high school seniors.
Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat who was being inaugurated for a second term on Wednesday, has promised to make his state second to none in public education.