Saying its members believe George W. Bush’s school-funding legislation, the No Child Left Behind Act, gets “a failing grade,” the National Education Association voted July 4 to lobby for a comprehensive rewrite of the statute next year.

At its Orlando, Fla., Representatives Assembly, the nation’s largest union also signaled approval of the universal, single-payer health care bill introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.). Delegates passed a resolution vowing to “inform our members about HR 676 and various states’ plans for establishing universal health care” through the union’s web site and other publications.

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation expires in 2007. “We have lived with the negative consequences of a fundamentally flawed law for almost five years and now our members are saying it’s time for a change,” NEA President Reg Weaver declared.

The 9,000 delegates adopted demands for an increase in federal funds promised under the law and a decrease in the number of children per classroom in U.S. schools.

They also called for student performance to be measured by a variety of methods, not just “the sole reliance on standardized testing” that Bush’s law demands.

NEA is the first of the nation’s two big teachers’ unions to take up the NCLB this year. The other, the 1.3-million-member American Federation of Teachers, will have NCLB on the agenda of its convention, July 20-23, in Boston.

Bush pushed his law through Congress with bipartisan support in 2001. It mandated constant testing of all students during their K-12 years and ordered states to set rigid and rising student achievement and teacher and staff qualification standards. It also said the tests would be the sole measure of achievement, and said that schools that fail would have their federal education aid funds yanked — with money promised to private schools and voucher systems. Right-wingers pushing the law openly hoped public schools would flunk. The Act promised more federal funds to help the schools, but Bush has not followed through on that.

“If NCLB was a standardized test, our members would give it a failing grade,” said Weaver, a middle-school teacher.

“A free, quality public education is a fundamental human right for all,” Weaver said. He stressed that the NEA has focused its efforts on several strategic goals: closing the gaps in student achievement between white and minority students; reaching out to ethnic communities; creating a plan for reforming unfunded mandates during the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act; ensuring that teachers have a minimum salary of $40,000 and providing a living wage for education support professionals, like bus drivers and custodians; expanding membership to offer support to more education employees; and working to achieve adequacy and equity in public school funding.

— Press Associates Inc.