What Matters Most

By Richard W. Riley

As 53 million children enter school this fall, school board members will be confronting three significant issues.

First, the economic recession that started in 2001 and the continuing weak recovery have wreaked havoc on state budgets all across America. Collectively, states have made about $40 billion in cuts. Usually, education has been protected from the most extreme budget cuts, but now school boards will be forced to tighten their budgets.

Second, school board members must be willing to work hard to implement the No Child Left Behind Act, which was passed with bipartisan support from the president and Congress. This legislation has many new requirements regarding accountability and testing and, on the whole, moves American education forward.

But this legislation will succeed only if President Bush fulfills his commitment and fully funds education. If the federal government demands more, it needs to invest more. You cannot have one without the other. Passing legislation with so many new requirements -- but without the funding to make it work -- is the worst of all possibilities.

Third, school board members will have to consider the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that vouchers are constitutional. I believe vouchers are bad public policy, draining public tax dollars away from public education at a time when many school boards are hard-pressed to meet their own budgets. It is my position that the use of public vouchers for private schools does harm to our effort for standards-based reform. Most school districts already offer a great deal of choice for their students -- magnet schools, charter schools, schools within schools, and subject-immersion schools, to name a few. 

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