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NCLB Outrages

A Senator's Opinion

Ohanian Comment: Here's a right-wing take on the NEA lawsuit. It pays to know what the other guys are saying. Senator Kyl is chair of the Republican Policy Committee.

I have my own discontents about the NEA lawsuit, which these fellows couldn't fathom.

This spring the National Education Association (NEA), along with several of its state affiliates and nine school districts, filed an unprecedented lawsuit over the No Child Left Behind Act. Known as NCLB, the law is President Bush's signature education initiative, and seeks among other goals to improve accountability for the use of federal education funds.

The suit alleges that, although federal support for K-12 schooling has risen by nearly two-thirds since 2001, Congress violated a constitutional clause against unfunded mandates by appropriating fewer dollars than originally authorized.

The NEA spent two years trying to find at least one state to join in suing the federal government for more money, ultimately settling for a mere nine out of the 14,000 school districts in the United States as co-plaintiffs. Their demand for at least $27 billion more federal funding is based on a shortfall that only they appear to be able to perceive; states have returned more than $190 million in unused federal education funds to the U.S. Treasury over the past two years, and audits confirm the existence of more than $6 billion in unspent federal education dollars - dating back to the Clinton administration - that states could tap into for NCLB programs. Moreover, three independent studies and two Government Accountability Office reviews have shown that federal funding more than covers the added costs of implementing NCLB. The last review plainly notes an obvious point: there is no "mandate" involved when requirements are only "a condition of federal financial assistance." That is to say, voluntary.

So if it's not about the money (for once), what is the NEA's real grievance? As analysts Robert Holland and Don Soifer suggest in a recent brief from the Lexington Institute, it's all about NCLB's accountability for educational results, which the NEA has consistently sought to sabotage.

For decades, states have failed to effectively measure, much less achieve, academic progress, but continued to receive tens of billions in federal funding anyway. When President Bush first took office, just 11 states were in compliance with NCLB's predecessor, the Improving America's Schools Act. Some states and school districts hid their failure to educate certain racial and ethnic groups by reporting only the "average" test score of a given school. Others simply avoided collecting or reporting the performance data at all.

One of the major objectives of the NCLB Act was to change all that - to bring all students to proficiency in reading and math by the year 2014 by preventing such statistical sleights of hand from masking accountability. The law requires states to test annually in grades three through eight, to break down the results according to race, income, language and disability status, and to publicize the findings. Students in failing schools can transfer and/or receive tutoring from outside the school system.

"This accountability and transparency," the Wall Street Journal notes, "is what NCLB's foes really fear...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."

For far too long money has flowed from the federal government to the states with no questions asked, while millions of mostly poor and minority students have been pushed through bad schools and left to fend for themselves in the workforce. Whatever its limitations, NCLB represented a bipartisan consensus that such systemic failure is no longer acceptable, and that federal funding should be accompanied by higher standards and more accountability.

Now, in the words of the Journal, the NEA wants to "keep the cash and drop the standards. The choice has to be both, or neither." Amen.

— Jon Kyl, U. S. Senator
The Fountain Hill Times


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