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Education officials meet for summit

By Greg Gelpi

NCLB, AYP, ACT, SAT, IDEA and more.

Local, state and federal education officials discussed the alphabet of education in a metro Atlanta education summit Saturday at Stockbridge Middle School.

The Second Annual Education Summit put those in the trenches in touch with those on the forefront of education legislation and policy.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act dominated most of the discussion at the summit as officials disputed the funding of the act.

Many of those on the panel supported accountability and other standards set forth in the act, but panelists differed on funding in connection with the act.

U.S. Department of Education Deputy Assistant Secretary Ken Meyer said there is a "a great deal of misunderstanding, a great deal of misinformation and a great deal of misapprehension."

He said that the federal government spends three times as much money today in inflation-adjusted numbers than it did in 1965 when the original act that No Child Left Behind is based on was passed.

The federal government spent $501 billion on education last year, about $125 billion more than it did on defense, Meyer said. Next year, Georgia will get $658 million in federal funding for No Child Left Behind.

U.S. Congressman David Scott, D-Atlanta, though, rattled off the amounts of funding authorized by Congress for the act since its reauthorization in 1994 and the amounts of funding appropriated by President George W. Bush. Scott said Bush appropriated $27 billion less than Congress approved for what he called a "monster of an unfunded mandate."

He called the funding disparity a "double whammy" for states, since many states, Georgia included, are facing their own funding problems.

"We in the Congress and we in this administration must plead guilty in not giving you the money," Scott said. "Unless we get that money to you, you're not going to be able to get the job done."

He also criticized No Child Left Behind for labeling schools as not making Adequate Yearly Progress if one subgroup of students doesn't do well on testing.

Scott said he is unsure of his position on holding students back for not doing well on testing. This year marks the first year of phasing in promotions for the state's Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests. Third-graders who don't pass the reading portion could be held back.

Meyer said that Bush didn't initiate the accountability portion of the No Child Left Behind Act. It was in the act before Bush re-authorized it.

"As the president says, identifying a problem isn't necessarily creating a problem," he said.

Funding tops the list of concerns for Clayton County Board of Education Member Barbara Wells.

"As with anything you have to have perspective on it," Wells said.

Wells was one of three Clayton board members that attended the summit. Carol Kellam and Connie Kitchens also participated.

Clayton County schools Superintendent Barbara Pulliam said that superintendents have developed an instinct when it comes to funding.

"When we hear about the increase, we start looking for the decrease," Pulliam said. "The question becomes where is the reduction and how can we survive it."

Pulliam agreed with Scott, saying that public education is the "backbone" of the country.

"I am uplifted, and I am very, very encouraged," Pulliam said after the summit. "You teach a man to fish. You don't give him the fish. When you learn to read, you learn how to learn."

Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor ran down the scorecard of the Governor's education package, identifying what he thought were successes and failures in the legislative session on the education front.

Taylor said the session was "partially successful" and in many ways a "sad failure."

It is "devastating" that education is slowly losing its spot as the state's top priority, he said.

The legislature kicked off a slippery slope that will end in the state's Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) Scholarship paying for only part of college tuition, Taylor said.

Sarah Copelin-Wood, the chairwoman of the DeKalb County Board of Education, said the summit served the important function of bringing together various levels of education.

"Truly, we cannot make it as a nation if our children are not educated, and it starts with us," Copelin-Wood said. "We've got a difficult job ahead of us. We have got to let our representatives know we need help."

State Rep. George Maddox, D-Decatur, spearheaded the summit of school officials from Clayton, Henry, DeKalb and Atlanta City schools. Next year's summit will be hosted by the Clayton County school system.