State of the Union reaction

WASHINGTON- President Bush's State of the Union address noted the need to change some provisions of No Child Left Behind. His call for flexibility echoes the bipartisan push for substantive reform as part of the reauthorization process. The National Education Association said the remarks are a step in the right direction and long overdue, but raised serious concerns about the president's proposals that alluded to school vouchers and called for sweeping health care changes.

"Educators have experienced NCLB firsthand for the past five years, and welcome the president's acknowledgment that it's time for increased flexibility and funding," NEA Pres. Reg Weaver said. "We need to make sure struggling schools have the resources they need to improve. And we need to make sure the law is flexible enough to take a school's improvement into consideration before leveling heavy-handed sanctions."

Weaver said NEA looks forward to working with Congress to incorporate the association's Positive Agenda during reauthorization so that NCLB truly meets its goals of improving student achievement, closing achievement gaps and ensuring every student has a fully qualified teacher. Yet Weaver rejected the idea that NCLB reform should include proposals by the president that would divert resources away from public schools.

"No children should be 'stuck in failing schools' and access to a quality public school should be the basic right of every child," Weaver said. "The success of all public schools should be the priority. So let's not take one step forward and three steps back. NCLB reform shouldn't be muddied by voucher proposals that have repeatedly failed, or floundered, in Congress. Whether they're called 'opportunity scholarships' or 'promise scholarships' or any other name, a voucher is a voucher. School vouchers divert scarce dollars from underfunded public schools and move us farther from achieving a great public school for every child."

The president also proposed health care policies that he said are meant to make health insurance more affordable for those who are uninsured and will give the insured an incentive to choose the cheapest health care available. Individuals with more generous health care plans would pay new taxes.

"NEA's 3.2 million members welcome the president's attention to the crisis of affordable health care," Weaver said. "But instead of expanding health care to all, it penalizes those fortunate enough to have proper coverage. What's worse, it irresponsibly encourages people to cut back on their family's health coverage by dangling the promise of smaller tax bills. We urge lawmakers to focus on the rising costs of health care, the impact on families and how we can make sure all Americans have access to quality health care."