Brandon Area Schools Sue Feds Over NCLB Funding
Note the plan to win on funding and then go after standards and assessment methods.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Amid growing grumblings of dissatisfaction with the under-funding of the No Child Left Behind education law, three school districts, including Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, on Wednesday filed suit demanding that the federal government either relax the requirements of the act or fund it properly.
The National Education Association (NEA) is footing the bill for the case, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Michigan. The plaintiffs are schools in the RNeSU, including Leicester Central School, Sudbury Elementary School, Whiting Elementary School, Neshobe Elementary School and Otter Valley Union High School; as well as schools in Pontiac, Mich., and Laredo, Texas.
Vermont-NEA President Angelo Dorta pointed out that Vermont received $26.7 million less in 2005 than it would have if No Child Left Behind had been funded at the level Congress authorized and that “under President Bush’s proposed budget for 2006, Vermont would receive $42.4 million less than the authorized funding level.
“These school districts are representative of districts throughout Vermont whose resources are being drained away to meet a one-size-fits-all federal standard that is wrong for Vermont,” Dorta said.
The lawsuit cites Section 9527(a) of the NCLB law, which states, “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the Federal Government to mandate, direct, or control a State, local education agency, or school’s curriculum, program of instruction, or allocation of State or local resources, or mandate a State or any subdivision thereof to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this Act.” In other words, the school districts cannot be forced to comply with any law that they are not receiving federal assistance for.
“It is the cruelest illusion to give our children a promise we never intended to keep,” said RNeSU Superintendent Bill Mathis. “We stand here today to say it’s not only illegal, but it’s wrong.”
Mathis said studies have concluded that it would cost $137.8 billion for schools to implement NCLB, however the federal government has only appropriated $12.3 billion in Title One money, which is given to schools based on poverty, or essentially the number of students eligible for free and reduced price lunch.
Under Mathis’ calculations, there are two separate requirements that need to be funded. The first is the administrative costs, which essentially covers the cost of assessments for all of the nation’s students. This cost is estimated at $6.7 billion. The remedial costs, on the other hand, are $137.8 billion, which covers actually teaching kids by providing an environment where the students can be brought up to the standards.
Guadalupe Cortes, a teacher in the Laredo, Texas, school district, said in a teleconference that the testing regimen and strict requirements imposed by NCLB not only lack funding but are also hurting schools, as the tests serve as a punishment rather than helping the students.
“An education program that is supposed to help prevent students from dropping out is actually causing them to drop out,” said Cortes. “It’s a flaw in the system.”
Leicester resident Connie Carroll, OVUHS school board chairwoman, agrees: “NCLB is counter-productive to smaller schools in the area. It’s pretty apparent that it’s not functioning in Vermont. We spend all of this time testing, which takes away from the time for teaching, and there is nothing in it for the kids. When they are tested in this fashion, they are not rewarded for doing well, so there is no motivation. This is not an accurate way to measure the kids.”
The OVUHS board discussed NCLB in depth prior to lawsuit. District schools have established enrichment programs, summer school, and other programs to help students meet the standards, but Carroll stressed that these were programs that would have been added anyway. However, she added that it has been difficult to add and enrich programs and stay within the budget constraints.
NCLB IN VERMONT
In Vermont, NCLB is implemented through a yearly assessment of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Three elements are looked at to determine whether a school has achieved its AYP goals. One is student performance, in which a mathematics achievement index and an English Language Arts (ELA) achievement index are calculated from state assessments. For the past few years, this assessment has been the New Standard Reference Exams (NSRE) given to fourth, eighth and tenth graders.
The second element examined is student participation, which is the number of students present to take the exam. Schools must have a 95 percent participation rate in order to meet the AYP standard. The final element is the academic indicator, where the state designates another measure, such as graduation rate, that is closely associated with student achievement.
In addition to examining these elements, AYP must be determined for individual groups of students where there are 80 or more students who fall within the category. These are: all students, economically disadvantaged (free or reduced lunch) students, students with disabilities (IEP), limited English proficient (LEP) students, and six major racial ethnic groups.
A school is listed for improvement if they fail to meet the AYP standards, the participation rate, or meet the academic indicator for two consecutive years. Once listed for improvement, the schools must create an improvement plan and follow written required actions listed by the education commissioner. If the school does not make AYP the following year, more consequences come into effect, and eventually the school could be shut down. To be removed from the one-year improvement list, the school must make AYP for two consecutive years.
In 2004, Neshobe, OVUHS, and Vergennes Union High School were placed on the year-one school improvement list for failing to meet AYP standards. Leicester was on the list in 2003, but met the standards in 2004. They will now have to meet the standards one more year to be removed from the list.
These and other schools have all faced the same challenge of how to educate their students better without having the proper resources. In some cases, the cost of assessments has been great enough for schools to have to cut back on other worthy programs, such as art, gym, or even other academic programs to make time to prepare for assessments, administrators said.
If the three school districts in Wednesday’s suit win their case, then they will not be required to use their own resources to fund NCLB. Officials said if they won in court on the funding issue they would use that as leverage to get the U.S. Department of Education to make changes in the NCLB standards and they way students are assessed.
The Vermont Commission of Education Richard Cate was in Washington on Wednesday for a ceremony honoring teachers of the year and could not be reached to comment on the suit.
School officials involved in the suit were not sure when arguments in the case would be heard or how long it would take the court to come to a decision.
“The federal government said that they would leave no child behind, so in turn they are coercing local governments to spend money that they don’t have when they are not spending it themselves,” Mathis said. “The government needs to be held accountable for providing assistance for what they have demanded.”
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES