Education is the silver bullet for so many of our nation’s problems. Our efforts to build a “land of opportunity” can succeed only if our public schools give every child the chance to realize his or her potential. Furthermore, our country’s status as an economic and military power rests on our students’ ability to keep pace with students from every other country. Therefore, our national government must make it the highest priority to help states improve public education.

Our national government should help improve our public schools in the following ways:

Congress should listen to professional educators’ advice about how to improve the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. The NCLB goals are admirable, but in practice the Act has major problems. Congress must fully fund the Act for it to be effective, and our government should reform the Act according to input from our country’s best educators.

Congress should use federal money to improve public schools, not to finance vouchers for private schools. Most private schools are fantastic institutions where parents may certainly choose to send children, but our government should not use public money to finance those choices. Public money should go to our under-funded public schools.

Congress should focus on helping our best and brightest students push themselves as far as they can. For our country to remain an economic and military superpower, our country’s top students must be among the world’s best minds leading all our endeavors.

Congress can and should increase public school funding in a fiscally responsible way.

Many on the far Right do not understand the importance of fully funding our public schools. They repeatedly vote to divert funding from public schools into voucher programs, which use public funds to send children to private schools. They often give lip service to the “responsibility to educate every child,” but clearly do not understand how removing money from public schools prevents our country from doing just that. In 2007, the National Education Association gave our current Representative, Mr. Linder, an “F” for his failure to “promote the cause of quality public education.” We can and must do better. Those who seek to succeed him on the far Right simply do not understand how to improve educational opportunities for our country’s children and young adults.

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Supporting My Position

Our national government must help state governments fully fund our public schools. In 2002, President Bush signed into law the strongly bipartisan No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, a landmark law designed to facilitate the academic success of every student— regardless of any student’s socioeconomic background. The law preserves states’ autonomy by allowing each state to design and follow its own path to school improvement. The law’s goals are admirable, but it has some major flaws that our national government can help address.

The NCLB Act has never been adequately funded. This year’s federal budget for NCLB is $24.5 billion—which sounds impressive until you consider that the Gwinnett County Public Schools alone operate on nearly $2 billion each year. The law requires schools to set benchmarks for improvement like never before, but schools are given no additional funds to help make this happen. Only the very poorest schools receive any federal money at all through “Title I” funds. This situation fails students, hurts teachers’ and administrators’ morale, and makes unreasonably difficult each school’s task of achieving its required “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP).

Many groups of professional educators have submitted plans to improve the NCLB Act, including the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the Aspen Institute, and the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. Congress needs to pay attention to what large groups of experts say about education legislation. For instance, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) says it “has long championed the principles underlying the No Child Left Behind Act” but criticizes the Act for sticking to a flawed AYP formula and failing to support educators. The AFT says that the $70.9 billion “short-changed” to the Act since 2002 would help solve many of the Act’s problems. Other organizations offer different criticisms and solutions, but here is the bottom line: Congress must fully fund whatever reforms it passes, or the promise of opportunity will remain un-kept for many students.

Some argue that instead of increasing funding for our country’s public schools, we should privatize schools and let market competition drive our education system. Others believe we should partially privatize education through student “voucher” programs. These would be poor decisions: public money should be used to improve our public education system, not support privatization programs. Like any product in the market, the best schools would cost the most money, and the “land of opportunity” we want to build should not make the best schools cost-prohibitive for most families. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education reports that 76% of our country’s private schools are religious institutions. We don’t fund our churches with taxpayer dollars and we also shouldn’t fund our religiously-based private schools with those taxpayer dollars.

Others argue that money is not the problem because our country already spends as much money per student as any other country. It is true that schools need to spend efficiently and that parenting and other factors play huge roles in students’ success; however, our funding problem is not that simple. The United States is unique among countries with high-achieving students for several reasons. Many other countries offer free education only through middle school, but we offer it through high school. Other countries do not offer the wealth of free special education programs our schools offer, and these programs require a lot of funding. American public schools try to offer students unique kinds of opportunity, but we need to adequately fund our public education programs for those opportunities to be real.

Yet even a fully-funded No Child Left Behind program will not solve all our country’s public education problems. NCLB focuses on achieving minimum passing standards for all students, but it does not focus on helping our best students push themselves further. Our country’s top students used to lead the world, but over the past two decades we have fallen behind. For America to remain an economic and military superpower, our country’s top students must be among the world’s best minds leading all our endeavors. We must do more than help students achieve at a minimum level: we must help all our students reach as far as they can.

Finally, while our national government must spend more money on public education, it must do so while keeping a fiscally disciplined overall budget. There are plenty of ways we can realistically accomplish this goal.