Education Bill Provides Flexibility, But Maybe Not Quality

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Congress stood poised to pass its first major piece of social legislation on Thursday. The subject, education, allows both parties to show they care about everyone's favorite constituency: children. The House passed and the Senate was expected to pass a bipartisan "ed-flex bill" that would allow states greater flexibility in spending federal education funds. The bill is non-controversial, says TIME congressional correspondent John Dickerson "because it expands nationwide a pilot program that now exists in 12 states." It is popular, he adds, because it gives both parties the political cover they need to show they are getting down to business.

But how much of a difference will the measure really make? It will help nationally "only if we think all states will do the right thing with the money," says TIME Washington correspondent Ann Blackman. The effect is more likely to be spotty and uneven. The real issue in education these days, says Blackman, is teacher pay and teacher quality, and there in little is the bill to address these problems systematically. Even the major point of contention between the parties--a Democratic amendment, defeated in the House, for money to hire 100,000 new teachers--comes up short on the matter. The hiring of 100,000 teachers by itself does not assure better teachers, says Blackman.