California Democrats stood in front of public schools up and down the state Monday to criticize President Bush and the federal government for not fully funding special-education programs and Title I, the bonus money given to schools that educate poor children.
Democratic legislators and school board members joined teachers union officials and educators in news conferences in Reseda, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, Fresno and San Diego.
"We want the president to have a better report card than the one he has," said John Perez, vice president of United Teachers-Los Angeles, outside Grover Cleveland High School in Reseda.
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel, noting a proposed 11% increase for the U.S. Department of Education's budget, said Bush "has proposed historic levels of education funding to increase the focus on reform and results in our schools."
Federal law gives all students the right to an education regardless of their disabilities, but Washington funds only 15% of school districts' special-education programs--although federal law requires it to pay 40%, Democratic critics said.
The federal government also has failed to adequately fund Title I, meaning districts are unable to hire more teachers or offer more programs for disadvantaged students, they said.
This problem has existed since well before Bush became president, and he has proposed increasing funding in both areas.
But critics said Monday it is not enough for the federal government to spend $500 million more on Title I and to fund only 17% of special education.
Estimates of the federal budget surplus Bush had planned to tap for many of his programs, and which he used to justify the recent federal tax cut, were further reduced Monday by the Congressional Budget Office.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), who joined UTLA's Perez in Reseda, said the tax cut will continue to drain money from education. Bush "provided that tax cut and then ignored those other priorities," Sherman said.
School districts need more federal money to renovate aging campuses, build more schools to accommodate surging enrollment and hire more teachers to reduce class sizes, he said.
Special education is claiming more and more of school districts' budgets, the Democrats said. Los Angeles schools spend $1 billion, 11% of the L.A. Unified School District's budget, on special-education students, who have a wide range of disabilities. Required by law to fund programs for these students, the district has been forced to cut back on arts programs, nurses and librarians, critics said.
"It's played havoc with the budget," said Julie Korenstein, a Los Angeles school board member who attended the Reseda news conference.
Sherman acknowledged that the Bush White House is more supportive of federal involvement in education than Republicans have historically been. There was a time, he pointed out, when GOP presidential platforms proposed abolishing the federal education department.