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Legislators chafe under No Child Left Behind

SANTA FE — A state senator suggested Tuesday that state lawmakers send a letter to their federal counterparts in Congress urging that changes be made to the No Child Left Behind education reform act.

“I’m not a big fan of Sen. (Edward) Kennedy’s bill either,” William Sharer, R-Farmington, said with wry smile. But, he said New Mexico could ill afford to follow the path of states like Utah, Texas and Connecticut, which have taken a more aggressive position in opposition to the federal law.

Sharer said that, according to information listed on the Web site for the National Center for Education Statistics, New Mexico received $402 million in federal education money for the year 2002-03.

“I’m not sure we would recover from a $400 million hit to our education budget,” he said.
Yet, it is exactly that type of coercion that makes the federal program illegal, David Shreve, senior committee director for the National Conference of State Legislators, told members of the Legislative Education Study Committee.
Shreve said that in the case of South Dakota vs. Dole, the court established conditions under which Congress can place restrictions on funding. Two of those conditions are that the program must be unambiguous in describing terms required to receive federal funds, and the conditions must be a financial inducement, not coercion.

“We found, as we listened to folks all over the country — from the north, south, east and west — that No Child Left Behind is coercive,” Shreve said. “It really isn’t an option for state’s to refuse federal money.”

That, along with a clause in the act stating that its provisions will not cause states to expend more money or alter curriculum, will likely lead to court challenges of the law, Shreve said.

A task force of 22 state legislators from throughout the nation, including Rep. Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, released a report in February on the education reform act, Shreve said. It concluded that the federal government had overstepped its bounds, that the law was so inflexible it stifled innovation, that it set schools up to fail and that it would likely result in lawsuits against school districts and states.

Other states have challenged the federal law, Shreve said. The Utah Legislature nearly passed a bill to opt out. Texas has refused to comply with requirements governing special education. But in New Mexico, it may be more difficult for lawmakers to put those federal funds in jeopardy.

“I don’t know if we’re in a position to do what’s right,” Miera said.

Sen. Cynthia Nava, D-Las Cruces, suggested that the committee talk with officials in the Education Department and governor’s office to decide exactly what to ask for in a letter to the state’s congressional representatives.


— Walter Rubel
Las Cruses Sun-News


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