Time to Repeal Federal Control of Education
National rebellion against the federal No Child Left Behind Act continues to grow.
Last Friday, the Virginia House of Delegates voted 98-1 for a resolution calling on Congress to exempt states like Virginia from NCLB requirements. The resolution states that NCLB "represents the most sweeping intrusions into state and local control of education in the history of the United States" and will cost "literally millions of dollars that Virginia does not have."
It's worth noting that Republicans control the Virginia House.
Neither party affiliation nor family relationship stopped Florida Gov. Jeb Bush from commenting that his state's poor showing under NCLB "doesn't bother me" (Wall Street Journal, Sept. 17, 2003). Gov. Bush already had a plan in place to encourage progress in Florida schools -- in fact, NCLB used his program as a model. But while the state plan shows significant progress in the schools, by NCLB guidelines, 87 percent of Florida schools are "failing."
Virginia's resolution resulted from similar frustrations. "I'm all in favor of accountability and higher standards," said one Virginia legislator in a Jan. 24 story in the Washington Post, "but Virginia already has a system in place. This could cost us more money than the money coming in from the federal government."
That is literally what will happen. An Ohio Department of Education study indicates that by 2010, the state's cost of NCLB compliance will reach nearly $1.5 billion -- far more than the state will gain in federal "reward" money.
North Dakota has approved a resolution stating that the cost to states for implementing NCLB "is yet unclear," and Utah's Republican legislature is considering opting out of NCLB, the Post story says. A number of individual school districts have voted not to participate in the program.
A Public Agenda study, cited in the Christian Science Monitor in a Nov. 25, 2003 story, found that nearly 90 percent of school administrators support standards and accountability -- but only 5 percent believe NCLB is workable. A Vermont school superintendent, quoted in a Jan. 8 story in the Christian Science Monitor, said his district "started running the numbers and concluded that No Child Left Behind will cost us three times what we would get (from Washington) just in the remedial stuff, not counting the cost of high-quality teachers."
A major problem with NCLB is that it imposes federal standards, including deadlines and penalties, without regard to significant differences among the states and local school districts. "No child" means minorities, poor and special-needs students must meet the same standards as others, with almost no exemptions granted. If a child doesn't speak English, NCLB doesn't care -- the same progress requirements apply.
NCLB is a classic case of the federal government forcing itself where it does not belong. Virginia was already working to improve education on its own, allowing reasonable exemptions to its Standards of Learning tests -- such as exempting immigrants until they learn English. So was Ohio, and so were most states.
Some states are compensating for the unbending federal requirements, lowering their own standards so that it looks like they're making more annual progress than they really are. It's cheating, but can we really expect anything else when the stakes are so high and the requirements impossible?
Education Secretary Rod Paige, in an Oct. 31 column in the Wall Street Journal, raps NCLB critics as "the typical refrain from the left on spending and 'underfunding.'" He writes that "Education should not fall prey to partisan bickering and diversionary gamesmanship."
But it's not just the left. This is not a partisan issue, as the Virginia resolution and Gov. Jeb Bush's behavior make clear. Even Ed Feulner, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, has come out against NCLB, commenting that "The problem is, we've got the federal government trying to fix problems that are best left to the states. Schools and teachers should be accountable, but they should be accountable to those who know them best: Local school boards, state certification panels -- and parents. Not federal bureaucrats."
Mr. Paige, President Bush, members of Congress and all others who believe the federal government knows best regarding education -- are you listening?
It's time to leave NCLB behind. It is a mistake. It should be repealed, returning control to the states and, most of all, to local school boards. We can take care of our own children. If we need your help, we'll ask.
Contact Cindy Moorhead at:
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES