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NCLB Outrages

Utah Officials Appear to Dig in On No Child Rules

Utah educators Monday continued to refuse to budge from their position that federal officials' concessions in No Child Left Behind legislation fall far short of what state lawmakers are demanding.

"It is time to let the federal government know that we, not they, are in charge of public education in Utah," Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, said in a prepared statement Monday, adding that Utahns must "regain control of our own public schools."

Dayton issued the statement jointly with Utah Superintendent of Education Patti Harrington, who nonetheless praised U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings' flexibility in allowing Utah to pursue its own plan for student accountability under President Bush's NCLB law.

Their problem: It just didn't go far enough.

But Tim Bridgewater, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s education deputy, said, "Representative Dayton's attacks are untimely and miss the point. Most of the people who heard the announcements last week feel a major breakthrough occurred."

The Utah standards will go before legislators during a special session April 19-20. Most people expect that lawmakers will pass a version of what was House Bill 135 during the legislative session earlier this year.

The new bill would put state educational priorities ahead of the federal requirements. It says the state will comply with NCLB - as long as it doesn't conflict with state education priorities or require state dollars.

"I applaud [Spellings'] willingness to discuss flexibility; however, the federal government is still in Utah's classrooms," Dayton said in her Monday statement. She called the secretary's willingness to compromise as "only an 'incremental step' in the broader flexibility that Utah is seeking."

Secretary Spellings is scheduled to visit Utah officials on Friday for further discussions, said Susan Aspey, her spokeswoman. Last week, Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch invited Spellings to the state to improve the chances that both sides can find a resolution.

"It's very important that the federal government listen to the concerns of Utah educators," he said in an e-mail sent Monday through his Washington spokesman. "We've just got to do what we can to work out what's best for Utah schoolchildren."

Harrington also praised Huntsman's support for Utah's tough stance.

"His willingness to host a special session in this regard is admirable."

Bridgewater underlined Huntsman's optimism in the process. "We are confident that Utah will retain control over its education system. Utah is developing an accountability system that will include all students and minorities, and close the achievement gap - but on our own terms. We have found the [U.S.] Department of Education in agreement with many of our requests. We have achieved well over half of our goals."

— Mike Cronin
Salt Lake Tribune


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