Education Secretary explains impact of new law on students

By Bob Robinson
Star Staff

   U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige met with members of the Senate and House Education Committees yesterday to explain how federal dollars will benefit K-12 students in Tennessee under the "Leave No Child Behind Act of 2001."
   State Sen. Rusty Crowe, vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said legislators thought the one-hour meeting with the secretary was productive.
   Sec. Paige praised Tennessee lawmakers "for allowing no child to be left behind" under the Basic Education Plan enacted by the legislature during Ned McWherter's first term as governor.
   Under the new federal law, the implications for 1,555 public schools in Tennessee "mean every child will feel the difference. It gives each child an equal opportunity regardless of their background, how rich or poor, or what ethnic group they come from," Sen. Crowe said.
   According to Sec. Paige, the federal legislation, basically, centers around four pillars:
   * Stronger accountability for results;
   * Greater flexibility and local control;
   * Expanded parental options; and,
   * Emphasis on teaching methods that work.
   The new federal act increases K-12 funding by 27 percent and Title I program funds for disadvantaged by 18 percent over 2001 levels; provides nearly $3 billion to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers and principals; boosts funding for reading programs to nearly $1 billion; and provides an estimated $200 million for charter schools to expand parental choice.
   The additional federal monies will impact Tennessee after Oct. 1 when the next fiscal year begins.
   "The new federal act gives the state the flexibility to address educational needs identified at the local level, based on certain parameters.
   "In the coming weeks, the State Department of Education will be communicating with local school systems across the state. Each school system will apply for grants to address local needs. The funding mechanics are still being worked out," Sen. Crowe said.
   Sec. Paige applauded the work of U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, a major mover of the "Leave No Child Behind" legislation.
   "We are proud that you came to Tennessee. We are proud of what you and President Bush are doing for education. We are proud of the involvement of Sen. Frist.
   "Those who know best, what to do in Tennessee, are teachers, staff and administrative personnel in our schools that look directly into the eyes of our students every single day. That fits with the pillar local control and flexibility," Sen. Crowe said.
   One committee member told Sec. Paige that his school district could not afford textbooks. Sec. Paige said it would be left to local school districts to determine how funds are spent.
   On accountability, Sen. Crowe told Sec. Paige that Tennessee is near the top.
   "Accountability is so tight at the very top levels in Tennessee, school board members, superintendents and principals are held accountable for their performance if the system does not perform at certain levels.
   "Everything rests on the shoulders of our teachers. They are responsible for the progress achieved," Sen. Crowe said.
   On ways to obtain more parental involvement, Sec. Paige suggested tightening up parent-teacher conferences, providing "community schools" so that parents feel a part of the community, and improving communication with parents.
   Elizabethton and Carter County already have a high percentage of involvement in parent-teacher conferences, Sen. Crowe said.
   In summary, "Tennessee legislators were pleased with Sec. Paige's openness and candor. Sec. Paige, in turn, was pleased with the steps Tennessee has already taken from BEP to present. Much of what Tennessee has done is embedded in the Leave No Child Behind philosophy," Sen. Crowe said.
   Sen. Crowe indicated that he and State Rep. Ralph Cole of Elizabethton have a great deal left to accomplish for education in Tennessee. "We will continue the dialogue with the Tennessee Department of Education and local school boards. Tennessee is on the right track.
   "Our children are our future. A bipartisan approach is needed if we are to move K-12 in the right direction for the 21st century," Sen. Crowe added.