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NCLB Outrages

Utah Bill Would Buck Federal Rules on Public Schools

Ohanian Comment: And what about the Feds' threatening Utah with the loss of Air Force bases if they dared to turn back NCLB?

Utah won't boycott President Bush's education policy. But, under a new bill that asserts local control in public schools, it might very well defy federal provisions that crimp state coffers or conflict with state priorities.

Orem Republican Rep. Margaret Dayton's House Bill 135 is the 2005 version of last year's high-profile measure to opt out of the federal No Child Left Behind [NCLB] law and forfeit the $106 million that comes with it. Utah led a multistate mutiny against the law, citing its cost and unprecedented Washington intrusion into state affairs.

Instead of boycotting the law, HB135 asserts that federal education policies take a back seat to state control - and may even be ignored if they require state dollars.

"We can't be expected to fill in the financial blanks, and we shouldn't have to be dealing with federal regulations," Dayton said Monday. "We have to take our state issues back into our own hands."

U.S. Department of Education officials are expected to visit Utah in coming weeks to discuss the measure and state leaders' concerns.

Bush pushed NCLB through Congress in 2001 with broad bipartisan support. The law requires public schools to show annual standardized test-score gains for all racial and demographic groups.

High-poverty schools that fail to make enough progress for two consecutive years are required to pay transportation costs of students wishing to transfer. Extra tutoring and other services are mandated in each successive year of shortcoming.

HB135 would give Utah's school system permission to buck those mandates. For example, a district might opt to offer tutoring instead of transportation for transfers.

"The federal government might not like it, but to wait until a child slips into failure mode is not a wise use of money," state Superintendent Patti Harrington said. "We'd rather do it at the front end. NCLB just has it wrong."

Even so, federal officials have not taken kindly in the past to states' requests for flexibility. Several education department officials came to Utah a year ago to make it clear that failure to comply with the letter of the law would jeopardize the state's federal education dollars.

President Bush's new secretary of education, Margaret Spellings, has pledged to work with states to address their concerns.

Several states are launching similar initiatives for relief, according to Scott Young, an education policy associate for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"The new trend is to emphasize their state systems and request waivers from requirements," he said.

Dayton concedes that this year's Utah bill is less defiant than last year's, but her regard for No Child Left Behind remains unchanged.

"I still think opting out is worthy of serious discussion," she said.

"But we also have to deal with the reality of the lack of support when it comes to losing $106 million - even though that's such a small percentage of our education budget."


— Ronnie Lynn
Salt Lake Tribune


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