June 14, 2001
Honorable Betsy Brand
American Youth Policy Forum
1836 Jefferson Place, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
Dear Ms. Brand:
Thank you for your letter regarding high school reform and its place in the President's education agenda. We appreciate your interest and the concern shared by you and your colleagues. Thank you also for your congratulatory note. I am honored to serve as Secretary of Education.
President Bush has made improving the quality of our Nation's elementary and secondary schools his top priority. No Child Left Behind, the President's framework for elementary and secondary education reform, would apply proven strategies to strengthen Federal support for State and local efforts to improve our schools. These strategies include high State standards, annual testing of all students in grades three through eight in reading and math, increased accountability for student performance, reduced bureaucracy and greater flexibility for States, school districts, and schools, and expanded options for parents to make choices for their children's education.
The President's proposal for reform would support local efforts to improve the quality of education that our Nation's secondary school students receive. Among the President's proposals that specifically would address secondary education are:
Greater Flexibility in the Use of Federal Funds: The Administration's fiscal year 2002 budget proposal would consolidate several duplicative and overlapping programs into the Choice and Innovation State Grants program, which would provide States and districts with the flexibility to use Federal funds in a manner that best meets their needs without having to apply for separate categorical grants. For example, a district that desires Federal support to create smaller learning communities in its large high schools and implement dropout prevention programs currently has to apply for support under two separate categorical grant programs. Under the Administration's proposal, a district would have the flexibility to use its formula funds to create smaller learning communities and carry out dropout prevention activities.
Improving Teacher Quality: The President has proposed to consolidate the current Class Size Reduction program along with other programs that support professional development into a single State formula grant program to support State and local efforts to improve the quality of instruction nationally. As a result, local districts would be able to use funds that previously were targeted almost exclusively on the early grades to provide professional development activities for secondary school teachers.
Creating Safe and Drug-Free Learning Environments: Recent violent incidents in high schools and continuing high rates of drug use by secondary school students have demonstrated the need for providing youth with a safe and drug-free learning environment. The Administration's proposal for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program would provide a greater proportion of total funds that would flow to States (as compared to the 2001 funding level for State Grants) under the President's proposal. These funds will help ensure that children receive a high-quality education in a safe and drug-free environment. In addition, the President would hold States accountable for school safety by requiring States, as a condition of receiving a performance-based grant for safe and drug-free schools, to: (1) develop a definition for a "persistently dangerous school" and to report on school safety on a school-by-school basis; (2) provide victims of serious, school-based crimes and students trapped in persistently dangerous schools the option to transfer to a safe alternative; and (3) adopt a "zero-tolerance" policy that empowers teachers to remove violent or persistently disruptive students from the classroom.
The President and I are concerned about the preparation and achievement of all our Nation's students. As you suggest, my experience as a superintendent of schools has made me very aware of the challenges faced in our secondary schools and of the importance of the high school experience. The Administration's proposal supports broad-based education reform with secondary schools fully in mind. We look forward to working with you and the American Youth Policy Forum. Together, we can close the achievement gap and ensure that all students have an opportunity to obtain a high-quality education. Thank you for your offer of support and for sharing your concerns.