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Expenses at Issue in "No Child" Lawsuit

Ohanian Comment: The federal government's argument that Connecticut should use a cheap test seems dangerous. Ask yourself with which communities such an argument will backfire. And badly.

by Robert Frahm

New Haven -- Is the federal government going back on its promise to pay
for the additional student testing required under President Bush's
school reform law, or are Connecticut's tests simply more expensive than
necessary?

That is a central question facing a federal judge who will decide
whether to dismiss Connecticut's lawsuit against the federal No Child
Left Behind Act or to let the case proceed.

U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz grilled state officials Tuesday on
whether the Connecticut's expansion of its multimillion-dollar annual
Mastery Test program does more than the federal law actually requires.
That is the federal government's claim in its motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Kravitz asked state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to amend the
state's complaint to answer whether federal funding is adequate to meet
at least minimum standards outlined by U.S. Secretary of Education
Margaret Spellings.

Blumenthal filed the lawsuit against Spellings last summer, calling the
federal law an unfunded mandate and contending that it will unfairly
cost state and local taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Educators and politicians across the nation are watching the case
closely to gauge its impact on the most sweeping federal education law
in 30 years. The law calls for a broad expansion of testing and a
shake-up of schools that fail to make progress with all students,
including low-income children, special education students and members of
minority groups.

Kravitz peppered lawyers for both sides with questions during a
five-hour hearing Tuesday. He ordered the state to file its amended
complaint by Feb. 28; then the federal government has until March 30 to
reply.

For 20 years, Connecticut has tested children in grades four, six and
eight, but No Child Left Behind also requires testing in grades three,
five and seven - an expansion that state Education Commissioner Betty J.
Sternberg contends will cost millions of dollars more with little
additional benefit.

The federal government, however, says the additional expenses incurred
by Connecticut are the result of the state's own decision to reject a
less expensive form of testing.

State officials plan to include a section on writing in the new tests,
as well as other questions requiring written answers, although the
federal government only requires tests of reading and mathematics.

Kravitz asked, for example, whether the state claims it has insufficient
federal funding if it were to administer only a simplified exam with
multiple-choice answers for grades three, five and seven.

Federal officials say there is enough money to do that, but state
education officials contend there is not. Blumenthal told the judge that
state officials also believes simplifying the test, as suggested by
Spellings, would interfere with school curriculum.

"There's always the option of dumbing down our tests to the point where
we believe they would be inadequate, and we're not willing to do that,"
Blumenthal said.

U.S. Justice Department lawyer Elizabeth Goitein asserted that
Connecticut is giving a more expensive test than the law requires, and
is using estimates of those expenses to escape its obligations under No
Child Left Behind.

Like other states, Connecticut has seen a sharp increase in federal
education funding under the Bush administration, but state officials
contend the extra money does not cover the full cost of improvements
required under No Child Left Behind.

The state will get about $178 million this school year in federal grants
related to the law, about 25 percent more than the $142 million it
received in 2002, the year the federal law was signed.

Even with that increased funding, a study by the state Department of
Education estimates that the additional testing will cost Connecticut
taxpayers another $8 million over the next two years.


— Robert A. Frahm
Hartford Courant
2006-02-01
http://www.courant.com/news/education/hc-ctnochild0201.artfeb01,0,7651868.story?coll=hc-headlines-education


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