Signature Laws That May Not Leave Signature ; Hard Part for Campaign Finance, School, and Corporate Reform Is Implementation
Gail Russell Chaddock writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
One of the most frequently cribbed lines on Capitol Hill is a comment widely attributed to the 19th century German statesman Otto Von Bismarck: If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.
But for three of the signature legislative reforms of the 107th Congress - education, campaign finance, and corporate accountability - the tough part is making sure the new laws take effect.
Already, each faces looming obstacles:
* For education, it's convincing 50 states and 14,859 school districts to change the way they test and teach children.
* For campaign finance reform, it's surviving an epic court battle - and curbing the new strategies already proliferating to evade the intent of the new law.
* For corporate accountability, it's finding a team to help restore confidence in Wall Street that the public will find credible.
The history of such laws is a constant effort to find ways around them or through them, says Stephen Hess, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Unlike campaign-finance and corporate-accountability reforms, the education law comes with the full support of the Bush administration. President Bush calls the No Child Left Behind Act "the cornerstone of my administration."
As drafted, it's a dramatic bid to use federal-education dollars to leverage better results in the classroom. It requires states to set up their own accountability systems that measure the "adequate yearly progress" of children in Grades 3 to 8. All students are expected to be "fully proficient" in reading and math by the end of the 2013-14 school year. As an incentive, Washington is increasing education aid to states and local school districts by 40 percent this year - the highest increase ever.
This week, the Education Department issued final regulations to implement the law. They require states to submit a plan by Jan. 31 to show how they will meet new requirements. It will be a stretch. Some 17 states are still not in compliance with the last big education reauthorization in 1994, which required states to set academic standards and create a system to measure whether students are proficient in them. This administration promises they will not be swayed by political pressure from governors to ease up on the terms of the law.
"We're pleased to see that the department has held firm on the law's accountability requirements," says Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, a lead supporter of the reform.
However, one big loophole is already beginning to surface: Some states, including Louisiana, Colorado, and Connecticut, are lowering the threshold for what it means to be proficient. If this trend continues, it could blunt the impact of the new reform.
"We would like to think that the response to this law would be to meet the challenge, rather than to duck it," says Deputy Secretary Eugene Hickok. …