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Local editorial

Rules punish neediest schools

Yanking funds from those that fail just makes success that much harder

President Bush says he doesn't want to leave any children behind. But schools, it seems, are fair game.

A preliminary report this month revealed thousands of schools once again have failed to meet rising federal No Child Left Behind standards. And the poorest, including two in Jackson County, will see money sucked from their budgets because of it.

Prospect School, and Butte Falls Middle and High School get federal Title — money because a high percentage of students are needy enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

But in a miserly turn on the concept of federal aid, they will be required to spend that money not on meeting the needs of disadvantaged students as a group but on outside tutoring for any students whose parents seek it, state Department of Education officials say.

The intention isn't so far off the mark. When students attend a school that fails to deliver the goods, they should have access to help.

But it's not that simple with No Child Left Behind, where the practical result is to yank funding from schools that need it most.

— If the schools hire outside tutors for specific students with the federal money, they'll only lose funding for other programs. In at least one of the Jackson County cases, that's money for classes designed to help students who aren't keeping up.

Once schools fall in, their only way out of the hole created by the government is to achieve federal standards at least two years in a row.

But how likely is that, when they've got less money to spend and when the No Child law requires a rising percentage of district students to meet the standards every year?

Isn't it inevitable, in fact, that by 2014, when every student in every school in every community in the nation is supposed to meet the standards, everyone will be in the hole together?

The No Child law has been ridiculous since President Bush first explained to us in 2001 his magical land where no child ' not the poor, not the disabled, not the non-native English speakers ' would fail to meet lofty standards realized through the nation's single-minded pursuit of excellence.

It becomes less realistic by the year, as more schools stumble in their attempts to reach the president's ever higher bars. Now what can you do? the government seems to say. What about now? What if we raise the bar even higher? Can anybody leap that high?

Every one of you must.

Follow this strand to its conclusion, and you can see where No Child is leading: to no place good for public education.

The law comes up for reauthorization in 2007. If it isn't willing to start over entirely, Congress at least ought to reconsider its most damaging provisions.

One of those surely would be punishing the nation's neediest schools by taking away federal aid aimed at helping them succeed.