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NCLB Outrages

Studies analyze excess costs of NCLB

There’s no question that school districts and states must divert large amounts of their own money to meet the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act.

But what is the extent of the federal shortfall? The authors of several recent studies, who discussed their findings at a July forum convened by the Center on Education Policy, said the extent to which NCLB is underfunded depends on how the costs are analyzed.

Factors affecting states’ costs, for example, include the extent to which activities carried out by states and districts are attributed to NCLB, the number of schools designated as not making adequate yearly progress (AYP) and thus subject to costly intervention strategies, and the amount of Title I funding received.

Cost analyses will be increasingly important as the courts take up lawsuits challenging NCLB as an underfunded mandate. Most recently, a law authorizing Connecticut to undertake such a lawsuit was signed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

Studies quantifying states’ and school districts’ excess costs also add weight to lobbying efforts for federal funding.

The fiscal 2006 funding bills under consideration in Congress would provide “extremely low funding increases for education,” says Reggie Felton, NSBA’s director of federal relations. “And that means schools would face greater difficulty meeting the requirements of NCLB, along with strains on local property taxes.”

A study undertaken for the New Mexico Public Education Department found that state’s costs associated with implementing NCLB is $13.7 million this year, rising to nearly $17.7 million in 2007-08, reports Robert Palaich, vice president of the Augenblick, Palaich and Associates consulting firm.

According to Palaich, the state’s costs in implementing NCLB comes to $43 per pupil this year and $56 in 2007-08.

The study says the costliest components of NCLB at the state level this year are standards and assessments ($5.5 million), NCLB data management ($2.5 million), technical assistance for school districts and schools ($2.4 million), and administration ($2 million).

Per-pupil costs for implementing NCLB at the school district level would be even higher. The report looked at five different types of school districts in New Mexico, and found the average cost for 2004-05 is $108.1 million, or $345 per student.

For Albuquerque, a large urban district with more than 86,000 students, the study estimated the district’s cost of implementing NCLB in 2004-05 is $21.9 million.

Among the districts in the study, the annual per-pupil cost ranged from $100 in the Las Cruces school district, with an enrollment of 22,500 students, to $1,670 in the tiny Jemez Valley district, with 550 students.

According to Palaich, these cost estimates are conservative, because they don’t include improvement strategies or preventive measures not directly related to compliance with NCLB, such as class size reduction, preschool programs, or leadership academies for educators.

A report by the Connecticut Department of Education found that state would have to spend $41.6 million -- over and above what it received from the federal government -- to implement NCLB through fiscal year 2008.

Frances Rabinowitz, associate commissioner for the division of Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, says the majority of those costs are for two key areas: the development of new assessments and the provision of technical assistance to help low-performing school districts. The study only addresses the costs required to comply with NCLB -- not the costs of meeting the NCLB goal that all students are proficient by 2014.

Another report issued by the Connecticut Education Department, which examines local-level costs of implementing NCLB, found that New Haven, an urban, largely minority district with nearly 20,700 students, would have to spend an additional $10.1 million to comply with NCLB.

But the Killingly school district, with less than 3,000 students, would be harder hit. While its funding shortfall would be just $3.8 million, it only gets $7 million a year in Title I funds, compared to New Haven’s Title I allocation of nearly $140 million.

For Connecticut school districts, the biggest costs associated with NCLB have to do with AYP, such as developing databases, training staff, and preparing accountability reports for parents. The second biggest expense relates to schools designated as in need of improvement, including school choice, supplemental services, and intervention strategies.

A study carried out for the Minnesota legislature found that state’s annual costs “could exceed $40 million when NCLB is fully implemented,” says John W. Patterson, a principal program evaluator and project manager with the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor. That amount includes $19 million for student assessments and $20 million for school choice and supplemental services.

The study found several other areas would have a “potentially large but unknown impact” on costs, including standards development and curriculum alignment, corrective action and restructuring for schools in need of improvement, teacher and paraprofessional development, and ensuring all students are proficient by 2014.

The study projects that by 2014, between 47 and 94 percent of the elementary schools in Minnesota that receive Title I funding will have failed to make AYP for at least three years and will be required to carry out school choice and supplemental services.

Another panelist at the forum, Theodor Rebarber, chief executive officer of Education Leaders Council and Accountability Works, says the amount of federal funding provided for NCLB is “a reasonable amount.”

The studies demonstrating that NCLB is underfunded “endanger the commitment to NCLB,” Rebarber says. “By sending the message that it can’t be done because of insufficient funding, people consider that a reasonable excuse if we don’t achieve results.”

Yet many state and local policymakers say they had effective assessment systems in place before NCLB but had to divert funds from other areas to create new accountability systems.

For example, Connecticut’s assessment system does not include annual testing for grades 3-8, as mandated by NCLB.

“The dollars spent on adding tests in grades 3, 5, and 7, as required by NCLB, would be much better spent on programs (such as preschool for all disadvantaged 3 and 4-year-olds) that have been proven to improve student achievement,” says Connecticut Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg.

“The disconnect between the goals of NCLB and its implementation, including funding levels, is troubling,” Sternberg says. “So is the apparent disrespect for the judgment of Connecticut educators, board members, and others in the state and local communities, who know their students best.”

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