Obama urges action on No Child Left Behind

President Obama used his weekly address to make a fresh push for an overlooked domestic priority, urging Congress move his proposed overhaul of the No Child Left Behind education law.

The president highlighted progress made at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tenn., where he delivered a commencement address Monday, in calling on lawmakers to give local schools greater flexibility.

“We need to reward the reforms that are driven not by Washington, but by principals and teachers and parents. That’s how we’ll make progress in education – not from the top down, but from the bottom up,” he said.

Obama last called on Congress to act in March, citing a Department of Education report that found that 82% of the nation’s public schools could fail to meet federal standards under the 2002 education overhaul pushed by President George W. Bush. He said Congress should reauthorize the legislation before the start of the 2011-12 school year.

“The goals of No Child Left Behind were the right goals. But what hasn’t worked is denying teachers, schools and states what they need to meet these goals,” Obama said at the time.

Democrats and Republicans widely agree that No Child Left Behind needs an overhaul, if not how precisely to do so. Many Democrats, and allies in the teachers unions, think schools need more federal money. They support standards of achievement but don’t want teachers judged solely by student tests.

Conservatives generally endorse tough standards but think state and local governments should have more responsibility, and support vouchers that would allow parents to use public funds to pay for private school tuition, which they say would promote competition among the public schools.

The Obama administration has said No Child Left Behind is inadequately funded and seeks to replace it with a system for reviewing schools that leaves more day-to-day decisions to states and school districts.

Though members of Congress and administration officials have continued to meet on education reform, it has been a low priority amid fierce debates on fiscal issues and the economy.

Republicans used their weekly address to discuss energy prices. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas accused Obama of “seeking to impose more regulations and taxes on oil and gas companies,” which she said could further raise prices at the pump.

“It is not enough for the president to talk about producing energy in America. We call on him to put policies in place that cut the bureaucratic red tape and put Americans to work doing it,” Hutchison said.

Last week, Obama outlined plans for expanded petroleum exploration in Alaska, and extending leases in the Gulf of Mexico and Arctic Ocean. In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans offered competing plans to end subsidies for oil companies and expanded drilling, respectively. Each proposal failed to advance.

Obama leaves Sunday night for a weeklong trip to Europe, with stops in Ireland, the United Kingdom, France and Poland. Both the House and Senate will be in session this week before leaving Washington for Memorial Day recess.