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Former Rep. George Miller Worried Senate ESEA Rewrite Lacks Accountability

Former U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., has only been retired from Congress for five months, but he dove back into the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization discussion Tuesday, saying the bipartisan proposal moving through the U.S. Senate may not have enough safeguards for poor and minority students.

"I'm worried whether there'll be enough accountability," said Miller, who was back in the nation's capital to discuss what direction the Democratic Party should move on education issues at an event hosted by Third Way, a Washington think-tank that focuses on finding common ground on difficult issues.

Miller, who is best known for championing K-12 education issues during his nearly 50 years in Congress, said there will always be tension about what the role of the federal government should be, but Congress has a constitutional charge and responsibility for poor and minority students, and that's why accountability is important.

"We're sending several billions of dollars a year on behalf of poor and minority students and we would like to know if it's working," he said.

The bipartisan bill brokered by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., would maintain the current law's reporting requirements, including for subgroups of students, but it would allow states to create their own accountability systems. And while the measure would require states to have plans in place for schools and districts that aren't performing well, it leaves the federal government with few (if any) enforcement tools.

Democrats, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and civil rights groups have aired their grievances over what they see as a lack of protections in the proposal for the most disadvantaged students. The issue is sure to be one of the biggest debates if the bill is brought the Senate floor, as it's expected to sometime this summer.

During the event, Miller was also asked whether if he knew then what he knows now about the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act would he still have voted for it. His answer: Yes.

"Of course I would," he said. "Because you had no system of finding out how children were doing. If you were poor or a minority student, you had no access to that information."

The one NCLB regret he has, Miller said, was the lack of understanding about the impact of labeling a school a failing school.

"When the test scores weren't good, those schools were called failing schools in the sense that the principals failed, the teachers failed," he said. "And that's not how it works. I didn't appreciate what that would mean in terms of public discussion."

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