Obama Says Bush Education Law Needs Overhaul to Meet Goals

President Barack Obama repeated his call for modifying the education legislation enacted by his predecessor, saying the law needs changes to meet the needs of the economy for a skilled workforce.

Obama said parents, schools and the government must work together to assure the success of students through hard work in the classroom and programs that will help them excel. He called on Congress to overhaul the law, known as No Child Left Behind, before the start of the next school year.

“The best jobs program out there is a good education,” Obama told students, faculty and officials today at a middle school in the Washington suburb of Arlington, Virginia. “The best economic policy is one that produces more college graduates.”

Today’s speech is one of a series the administration plans to emphasize the importance of education in U.S. economic growth. Obama also is using the issue to counter Republican proposals to enact as much as $61 billion in cuts to this year’s budget, arguing that the plan would hit vital programs. The government is operating on temporary spending authority for fiscal 2011 as Democratic and Republican lawmakers negotiate a spending plan.

Goals, Resources

While funding for education is part of the budget debate, members of both parties have supported modifying the law known as No Child Left Behind, enacted during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Obama said the law set the proper goals without giving schools the tools needed to achieve them.

Obama, 49, said education is so important to the U.S.’s ability to compete that it’s one of the areas where he’ll draw the line at spending cuts.

While saying he’s determined to cut the nation’s deficit, “fixing our failing schools costs money.”

“A budget that sacrifices our commitment to education would be a budget that’s sacrificing our country’s future,” Obama said. “We can’t be reckless and we can’t be irresponsible about how we cut.”

Shifting Funds

Obama proposed $77.4 billion in federal spending on education in his budget for the fiscal 2012, which starts Oct. 1. His proposal reduces higher education outlays by $10 billion while raising spending for kindergarten through high school education by 6.9 percent to $26.8 billion.

He said the existing law set the correct goals for public education without providing the resources to meet them. He backs more accountability for teachers and higher pay for the best instructors.

“We’re going to have to stop making excuses for the occasional bad teacher,” he said. “We’re going to have to start paying good ones like the professionals that they are.”

Obama said students must be measured against higher standards and they need assessments to determine whether they are prepared for college and a career. He called for changes in how schools are identified as failing.

“We need to fix this law now,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters on a conference call yesterday. Duncan said the law is too punitive and takes a “one-size-fits-all” approach to achievement.

Negotiating With Congress

Obama met last week with members of the U.S. House and Senate committees that oversee education matters in the hope they can craft replacement legislation before the beginning of the next school year, White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes said.

“There’s a lot more area of agreement than disagreement,” she said.

Representative John Kline, a Minnesota Republican who is chairman of the House education committee, that while there is support for changing the law, he disagrees with Obama’s timetable.

“We need to take the time to get this right,” he said in a statement following the president’s remarks. “We cannot allow an arbitrary timeline to undermine quality reforms that encourage innovation, flexibility, and parental involvement.”

Obama also may face resistance from Republicans who are part of the Tea Party caucus and object to federal involvement in schools, which historically have been under control of local authorities in the U.S. Some Republican lawmakers have suggested that a piecemeal approach to revamping the law would be more successful than a large, comprehensive bill.

Still Duncan said the law “has created dozens of ways for schools to fail, but very few ways for schools to succeed,” and the new legislation should provide better ways to help students improve.

To contact the reporters on this story: Nicholas Johnston in Washington at njohnston3@bloomberg.net; Kate Andersen Brower in Arlington, Virginia at kandersen7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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