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NCLB Outrages

Some Students Left Behind

Note that the WSJ uses Department of Education as its source for NCLB funding. They wouldn't have the nerve to contact Vermont Superintendent William Mathis for his figures.

By the way, special education expenses increase exponentially under NCLB.

We've seen a lot covering education politics over the years. But we never thought we'd see the day when the nation's largest teachers' union opposed a federal law because it forced school districts to spend too much on education.

Of course, the No Child Left Behind Act can't "force" states to do anything, and the National Education Association's claim that the bill is an "unfunded mandate" strains credulity. Overall education spending rose to a record half-trillion dollars last year, and federal support for K-12 schooling has risen by nearly two-thirds since 2001. (See the table below, which excludes special-ed spending that has increased even more.) Nevertheless, the lawsuit filed last week by the NEA and eight school districts in Michigan, Texas and Vermont -- along with the suit that Connecticut is threatening -- illustrate the lengths to which the public education establishment will go to avoid accountability.

Also last week, Utah's state Legislature passed a bill that orders state officials to ignore parts of NCLB. If Republican Governor Jon Huntsman signs the law, Utah could be kissing off $76 million in federal education funding. Utah has every right to reject the money, but this is also evidence that NCLB isn't forcing states to do anything they don't want to.

If Utah does go this route, it wouldn't be the first time a state spurned federal dollars. Between 1977 and 1982, New Mexico passed up nearly $23 million in federal school grants. And in 1994, five states -- Alabama, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Virginia -- initially opted out of a grant program known as Goals 2000.

That said, the complaints from today's opponents of NCLB are unpersuasive. No fewer than three independent studies of the law, and two General Accounting Office reviews, have shown that federal funding more than covers the costs of implementation. The most recent GAO assessment released last May states plainly that NCLB is not a mandate because its requirements are "a condition of federal financial assistance" -- i.e., participation is optional.

But what's really going on here has less to do with money (or states' rights) and more to do with the fact that No Child Left Behind requires the public education blob to change its ways if it wants to continue receiving money from Washington.

For decades the states failed to honestly measure academic progress, but they continued to receive tens of billions in federal funding anyway. When President Bush took office, just 11 states were in compliance with NCLB's predecessor, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Some states and school districts simply avoided collecting or reporting data that would reveal achievement gaps among students. Others hid the underperformance of certain racial and ethnic groups by reporting only the "average" test score of a school.

From the beginning, a major NCLB goal was to close the achievement gap and bring all students to proficiency in reading and math. This meant that fudging the numbers wasn't acceptable anymore. Therefore the law requires states to test annually in grades three through eight; disaggregate the results according to race, income, language and disability status; and publicize the findings. Students in failing schools can transfer to a better school and receive tutoring from outside the school system.

This accountability and transparency is what NCLB's foes really fear. Utah doesn't disaggregate its data in accordance with the law, and Connecticut doesn't test annually. The money issue is a sideshow intended to distract attention from these facts. And let's be clear about whose educational under-performance these educators are trying to keep under wraps: poor kids, especially minority kids.

Local and state control of K-12 public education is certainly better than running things from Washington, and if the public education lobby has decided that federal money is suddenly more trouble than it's worth, that's fine by us. We look forward to NEA leaders endorsing reduced federal spending and lower taxes if they really mean it.

For too long money has flowed to the states with no questions asked, even while millions of mostly poor and minority students have been herded through our worst schools and dumped into the workforce with a diploma they can barely read. NCLB was a bipartisan agreement that such education failure was no longer acceptable, and the political compromise traded more federal money in return for higher standards and more accountability. But now the critics want to keep the cash and drop the standards. The choice has to be both, or neither.

[Dollars for NCLB]
Dollars for NCLB
Federal spending on K-12
Education under No Child
Left Behind, in billions

2001 $17.4
2002 22.0
2003 23.6
2004 24.3
2005 24.4
2006 24.3*

Source: Department of Education

— Editorial
Wall Street Journal


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