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Backlash builds against No Child Left Behind

February 1, 2004

The attacks of presidential hopefuls on No Child Left Behind as an unfunded mandate has them pointing voters in exactly the wrong direction. Instead of challenging the unconstitutional power grab of central planners in Washington DC in brazen violation of the rule of law (the Constitution is the highest law of the land), they demand more money to implement the federal intervention in what is the legal sovereign authority of the states.

Ignoring evidence from 40 years of failed federal infusion of money into state education systems that has arguably been the cause of our current education debacle, presidential candidates are calling for more federal money to, once again, "solve" education woes in our nation. They apparently believe that more money is the solution to NCLB.

The solution to this ill-conceived plan is not MORE federal tax money to the states to implement it. With a noose around the neck of every state to come under massive federal authority or lose their Title I money, more federal money only tightens that noose.

An example of the growing arrogance of illegitimate federal bureaucracy comes from Eugene W. Hickok, acting deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, who told the Washington Post:

"This law is perhaps a challenge for us to implement, but it is the first comprehensive attempt to make sure that every child everywhere counts. To say no to that is a typical thing for the states to do."

Mr. Hickok, the law of the land gives all authority over education to the elected representatives and governors of each state in the union, not to you. "Counting" every child in school is not your job. When you lash out at states for asserting their rightful authority, you place yourself above the law, above the Constitution, and you willingly violate your sacred trust as a public servant.

Conservative PAC
In a January 22nd speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), Congressman. Mike Pence, a 2nd term Conservative Republican from Indiana pointed to the Education Department as one of many examples of government gone wild:

"A decade ago, when I first ran for Congress, Republicans dreamed of eliminating the federal Department of Education and returning control of our schools to parents, communities and states. Ten years later, (we get) the 'No Child Left Behind Act' . Our Reaganite beliefs that education was a local function were labeled 'far right' by Republicans and the president signed the bill into law with Ted Kennedy at his side."

State of Virginia
Virginia House Criticizes Bush Education Plan

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- In a backlash to President Bush's signature education program, Virginia's Republican-controlled House of Delegates approved a resolution calling on Congress to exempt the state from the requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The act "represents the most sweeping intrusions into state and local control of education in the history of the United States" and will cost "millions of dollars that Virginia does not have," the resolution says.

In passing the resolution 98-1, Virginia lawmakers loudly echoed concerns in other states about the effects of No Child Left Behind, which became law in 2002.

Under the act, being implemented gradually, every student must be proficient in reading and math by 2014, and schools that don't make "adequate yearly progress" risk expensive consequences, including being forced to pay for their students to attend higher-performing schools elsewhere.

Bush said during his State of the Union speech Tuesday that the act "is opening the door of opportunity to all of America's children."

But the Virginia resolution, and initiatives in other states, question the wisdom of the act's strict requirements for annual improvements - and its tough punishments. Some say the federal education initiative sets unrealistic standards.

A recent report commissioned by Ohio's Education Department determined that the law would cost that state $1.5 billion annually to ensure every child is reading and doing math at grade level within 10 years. The federal government would cover $44 million but leave the state to come up with the rest, the report says.

In Utah, the Republican-led legislature is considering voting to try to opt out of the program entirely.

Virginia's resolution followed months of complaints from local and state educators that the federal law conflicts with and threatens to undermine Virginia's own Standards of Learning testing program, in place since 1998.

Under the state's testing system, students take the SOL exams in English, history, math and science in third, fifth and eighth grades and in high school. Seventy percent of a school's students must pass the exams for the school to remain fully accredited by the state. This year, students also must pass six high school SOL exams to graduate.

Del. Albert C. Pollard, who sponsored the bill passed Friday, said earlier in the week that the federal program places unrealistic expectations on school districts, particularly those in inner cities and heavily rural regions.

Northumberland County, for example, has made tremendous strides in the number of students passing the state exams, but it still falls below annual the federal benchmarks, he said. Northumberland Schools Superintendent David Clint Stables estimated that his already overworked staff would have to increase by 20 percent to raise the pass rate from 78 percent to 100 percent in the next 10 years.

"To me, it's adding a layer of federal bureaucracy on top of a system that is already working," Pollard said.

Eugene W. Hickok, acting deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, told the Washington Post in its Saturday editions that his department is working to provide states with more flexibility, but he added that money is not the issue. According to his department, Virginia has $170 million in unspent federal education funds, though it wasn't immediately clear what restrictions were on those funds.

"This law is perhaps a challenge for us to implement, but it is the first comprehensive attempt to make sure that every child everywhere counts," Hickock said. "To say no to that is a typical thing for the states to do."

State of Utah makes move toward rejecting 'No Child Left Behind'

"Rep. Margaret Dayton said her bill sends Washington an unmistakable message that it is overstepping its bounds in a domain historically left to states... "'our neighborhood schools should not be held accountable to the federal government.' "

FRIDAY January 30, 2004

Panel votes to leave ed plan behind
By Ronnie Lynn
The Salt Lake Tribune

In a bold step toward a declaration of war against President Bush's education reforms, legislators advanced a bill Thursday that turns Utah's back on No Child Left Behind and the $103 million-plus it brings to the state's revenue-starved schools.

The House Education Committee unanimously forwarded House Bill 43 to the floor, a move that has national implications and the potential to devastate more than 200 Utah schools that rely on federal dollars to improve achievement among disadvantaged students.

Rep. Margaret Dayton said her bill sends Washington an unmistakable message that it is overstepping its bounds in a domain historically left to states. "This really is a states' rights issue," the Orem Republican said. "Our neighborhood schools should not be held accountable to the federal government."

While most committee members agreed -- in principle -- several said they couldn't vote for the measure on the House floor if it meant sacrificing federal money.

"We need to get a lot of answers before we make an unequivocal break from [No Child Left Behind]," said Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay. "There is a lot of money at stake."

Utah's defiance could be costly, prompting Gov. Olene Walker and some school officials to question the wisdom of HB43.

Walker stopped short of saying she would veto it. While acknowledging that she, too, resented the federal intrusion, the governor said she would be hard pressed to justify sacrificing $103 million when Utah spends less per pupil than any other state.

"We cannot afford to lose that amount of money in our public education system," she said Thursday during her monthly KUED news conference. "But I am willing to work with [federal officials] to make certain that the [federal] requirements are something that the state of Utah can live with, and we will do everything we can to see that that happens."

No Child Left Behind requires public schools to show annual test-score gains among all demographic groups. It imposes sanctions on high-poverty schools that fail to meet their targets. This year, 80 such schools were among the 246 schools statewide that missed the federal standards.

Salt Lake City school officials say Washington's strings, though a nuisance, are worth the $8 million they get in federal money to provide low-income children with before- and after-school programs, smaller class sizes and summer sessions, among other services.

Giving up that money could mean leaving those 8,574 children behind -- unless the state plugged the funding hole -- and letting the federal government spend Utah taxpayer money as it pleases, Superintendent McKell Withers said.

"I don't understand the conditions that would lead us to decide not only are we going to spend the least per student, but that we're also going to send $103 million to other states," he said.

State officials fear that total could grow even higher if the federal government also yanked funds for special education and subsidized lunches for low-income children.

San Juan School District draws a third of its $34.7 million from federal sources. That chunk would be jeopardized, and with it, the teachers, programs and services that have boosted student achievement in southeastern Utah, said Tim Taylor, the district's director of elementary schools.

"We are seeing success," he said from his Blanding office. "Over the last three years, we have had a 12 percent gap reduction in the achievement level between Anglo students and students of color. We are very proud of that. I'm not sure we could function without that money,"

Even so, some administrators at the state Office of Education endorsed the bill -- if only to negotiate more wiggle room in meeting the stricter federal standards. Indeed, Associate Superintendent Patti Harrington sat alongside Dayton as she pitched the legislation to the House committee.

"This bill is a good thing," Harrington said. "We need to get the attention of the federal government on the problems inherent in No Child Left Behind. Can we do without the money? No. We must have the money."

v Asked if Dayton's bill is a risky gamble, she said, "I would be very surprised if this [Bush] administration would want to have the publicity of pulling funding. My guess is they'll want to reconcile things."

The state Board of Education is expected to take a position on HB43 today.

Federal officials said state lawmakers should not be so quick to blame Washington for their qualms with No Child Left Behind. After all, the state Office of Education designed the tests, set the passing scores and developed the other measures used to comply with the statute, said Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education.

"Certainly, it's disappointing, and we would hope that it doesn't happen," she said of Utah's movement toward opting out of the federal program. "That said, No Child Left Behind is about all students being able to read and do math on grade level. States are free to determine how they meet that goal."

Aspey and others questioned the validity of HB43's fiscal note, which asserts the state could incur more than $1 billion in costs associated with implementing No Child Left Behind.

"I'm at a loss to explain how they could have arrived at these figures, which are ridiculously high and almost defy common sense," Aspey said. "It would appear that these computations are based on faulty methods and a clear lack of knowledge about the law."

The state's fiscal analyst derived the potential price tag from a Jordan School District analysis that projected implementation costs of $182 million for Utah's largest district. The tab includes $15 million for teacher raises, $28 million for training aides and $8 million for full-day kindergarten. None of those is mandated in No Child Left Behind.

Still, committee members said Utahns should be the ones deciding how to hold schools accountable.

"This is the 'Federal Education Blackmail Act,' and I'm somewhat incensed by it," said Rep. Jim Ferrin, R-Orem. "We have to stand up and demand we won't be blackmailed. . . . I for one am ready to send a message that we in Utah will not stand for it."

States across the nation are watching to see how Utah proceeds, said Scott Young, a policy associate for the National Conference of State Legislatures' education program.

"Other state legislatures and policy-makers are looking to see what happens," Young said. "By and large, Utah has been on the forefront of this issue and this is considered to be one of the stronger actions of a state."

Earlier this week, the Virginia House passed a resolution urging the federal government to allow the state to use its own accountability system instead of No Child Left Behind. Washington state is expected to consider a similar measure.

Lawmakers in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine have contemplated bills to prohibit spending state money on costs associated with implementing No Child Left Behind. Last year, the Hawaii House passed a resolution discouraging the state schools superintendent from complying with the federal law. rlynn@sltrib.com
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Tribune reporter Kirsten Stewart contributed to this story.

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