U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. told Hall County school administrators on Monday that he is hopeful of administrative changes to the No Child Left Behind Act that will help systems like Hall County that have an influx of non-English speaking students.
"I understand your pain and understand your concerns with No Child Left Behind," Isakson said. "It should have been reauthorized last year and wasn’t. It should be reauthorized this year and won’t be. It’s all because of politics, and I say that as a very disappointed person."
However, Isakson said the law allows the Secretary of Education to make changes to the law if Congress doesn’t act to reauthorize.
He said some changes will go into effect at the beginning of the next school year.
"You’ll no longer go into ‘needs improvement’ because of the failure of one differentiated group," Isakson said.
He added that he was pressing for a change that would keep non-English speaking students from counting against the school’s score for up to three years or until they were proficient in English.
Asked about the economy, Isakson said education is facing a difficult situation in terms of funding.
"We got one big problem," Isakson said. "The housing market is in the tank and has been in the tank and is not going to come out quickly. One of the biggest effects has been to suppress market value. The average price of a house has dropped about 11 percent. Education in Georgia is financed solely with ad valorem taxes, which are capped at 20 mills. The value of what you levy against is going down and that puts pressure monetarily and budgetarily on public education," he said.
Isakson, who spent more than 30 years in the real estate business, said the economic downturn will pass in time.
"I went through four recessions, but this one is going to be a little different," he said, adding that he expects more home foreclosures on the horizon.
Isakson also expressed concerns about the current price of fuel.
"The cost of energy right now is unsustainable," he said.
The senator said he told President Bush during a recent White House visit that the nation needs an effort much like the one in the 1960s, where scientists and engineers sent men to the moon in less than a decade.
"We need to make up our minds as a country that we’re going to reduce our dependency on foreign oil," Isakson said. "Politicians, Republican and Democrats alike, have got to put their differences aside."
He said that the U.S. needs to begin drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve and in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida. The senator said concerns about offshore drilling are not valid, adding that during Hurricane Katrina, no oil leaked from any of the offshore rigs in the Gulf.
"And 12 miles offshore is beyond the horizon," he added.