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Parental Involvement in Education

February 16, 2003

The following opposition testimony was presented to the House Education Policy Committee Tuesday, February 11th regarding HF 218, the "Review of Parent Involvement Programs" bill.

HF 218 sets up a pilot project for parental involvement programs in Minnesota, "according to United States Code, title 20, section 6319." As it turns out, US Code 20, Secion 6319 is No Child Left Behind. That this proposal comes out of the federal education funding law was information unknown to some of the co-authors of the bill until Dr. Effrem's committee testimony.

As one commentator puts it:

"It becomes obvious...that it isn't the parent defining the terms, setting the standards, deciding what constitutes ready-to-learn, it is the school. Likewise, it isn't the parent doing the grading; it is the school. So actually, what we are talking about here, with parent report cards, is parents being accountable to the school."

Chief author in the House: Keith Ellison (DFL)
Co-authors: Alice Seagren (R), Mindy Geiling (DFL), Frank Hornstein (DFL), Jim Davnie (DFL), Carlos Mariani (DFL), Jim Rhodes (R), Dean Urhahl (R), Connie Bernardy (DFL)

Senate Companion Bill: SF 346
Chief Author in the Senate: Linda Higgins (DFL),
Co-Authors: Sandy Pappas (DFL), Mee Moua (DFL), David Tomassoni (DFL).

Testimony in opposition by Dr. Karen Effrem

Thank you Madame Chairwoman and Members of the Committee.

My name is Dr. Karen Effrem. I am here as a mother of three, pediatrician, and taxpayer on behalf of the Maple River Education Coalition to oppose HF 218 due to concerns with parental rights, fiscal, and constitutional issues.

The bill's pilot programs are to comply with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, otherwise known as No Child Left Behind.

The real name should be No Child and No Parent Left Behind from Government Control. To receive the grant, the federal government is dictating that the parents and schools must sign a compact telling the school "the ways in which each parent will be responsible for supporting their children's learning, such as monitoring attendance, homework completion, and television watching."

Perhaps after this, parents in these pilot districts will receive report cards as is being done in Lebanon, Pennsylvania where parents are to be graded on attendance at parent-teacher conferences, whether they return things that are to be signed, and whether their children come to school healthy and properly dressed.

This federal law [NCLB] also says, "To ensure effective involvement of parents and to support a partnership among the school, parents, and the community to improve student achievement, each school . - shall provide assistance to participating parents in such areas as understanding the National Education Goals", [the new name for Goals 2000], .and among other things provide "information on how parents can participate in decisions relating to the education of their children."

Did you catch that? -- "How parents can participate in decisions relating to the education of their children."

In other words, the federal and state governments, if parents are really good, will allow them to participate in the educational decisions regarding their own children that these governments have already made via Goals 2000, No Child Left Behind, and the Profile of Learning. Isn't that magnanimous?

If that were not enough, this program will also provide "training to help parents to work with their children to improve their children's achievement," which means according to federal standards; and train school personnel to "work with parents as equal partners;"

Guess what? A parent being an equal partner with the government is a demotion for the parent!!

No Child Left Behind and this pilot program have made parents accountable to the schools and to the state and federal governments! It destroys the foundational principle of popular sovereignty, where government is accountable to the people. For our nation's entire history, the parents have been king of the hill and owned the store when it comes to the raising and education of their children. The schools are to be accountable to the parents!

The Supreme Court said in a 1925 ruling called Pierce vs. Society of Sisters:

"The child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations."

That right there is enough reason to reject this bill out of hand, but if you need more, let us discuss the constitutional implications for a moment.

I know that Chairwoman Sykora and Chairwoman Seagren have been attending meetings with the Department of Children, Families and Learning to see how to comply with the massive and complicated mandates of No Child Left Behind just to get the 200 million dollars of Title I money, or about 2-1/2% of Minnesota's education revenues that yields 80-90% percent of the regulations we comply with. It will likely cost much more than that to implement a law that puts the federal government in charge of the classroom, a total violation of the 10th amendment.

I have heard many negative comments about this law from members of this Committee. It reduces your role as locally elected officials to rubber stamps for the dictates of Washington. This law was rejected by 80% of Minnesota's Congressional delegation. Why then would you willingly take on more shackles to add a program that complies with a law that is costly, unconstitutional, funds programs that usurp the role of parents, and was rejected by a vast majority of Minnesota's elected representatives to Congress?

That brings me to another important concern, that of costs.

Here's what we get for the money. The schools and government are supposed to pay for translation of information for parents into other languages, transportation and child care costs and, if that were not enough, "may arrange for teachers .to conduct in-home conferences with parents who are unable to attend such conferences at school." In the current fiscal crisis, just how important and urgent are these types of expenditures?

There will initially be federal government grants to cover the cost of this pilot program, but then, as usual, the money will go away and the taxpayers of Minnesota and whatever districts start this program will be left holding the bag. In times of war and economic uncertainty, there is no guarantee of the extent to which the federal government will actually support this program and in a time of historic budget deficits in Minnesota, it is hardly prudent to take on more programs that the states and districts may not be able to sustain.

Finally, this program requires coordination with the parental involvement components of "Head Start, Even Start, the Home Instruction Programs for Preschool Youngsters, the Parents as Teachers Program, and public preschool programs." All of these programs collect massive amounts of data on families, are very long on expense and are very short on real evidence of long-term effectiveness.

Why would Minnesota want to coordinate anything with these federal boondoggles?

So, because this program makes parents accountable to the federal government, abrogates Minnesota's sovereign immunity, coordinates with ineffective, invasive, and expensive preschool programs, and is very expensive in its own right, I and the thousands of parents, teachers and business people of the Maple River Education Coalition strongly urge you to reject it out right.

Thank you.

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Paraphrase of a conversation with th