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NCLB Outrages

Utah Legislative Defiance Fizzles

Ohanian Comment: Here's one more piece of evidence that relying on a legislative solution to our NCLB woes will never work. We have to take action--and prove this is still a democracy.

Don't drink the tea. Don't ride the bus. Don't give the test (or let your kid take it).

What started as Utah's fiery defiance of a federal education law fizzled to an anticlimactic finish Thursday when the state Senate relegated House Bill 43 to summer study.

Sponsored by Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, the bill attracted national attention as the strongest stand -- Republican led, at that -- against the cost and "intrusiveness" of President Bush's prized No Child Left Behind reform law.

Thursday's action essentially kills the measure for this session, but Dayton said she still considers the outcome a success because it forced the federal government to listen to the state's concerns with the law.

"I had hoped it would pass, but I know there was a concerted effort out of the state to make sure this bill died," Dayton said. "I take it as a victory that this bill went so far. [Education] is a state's issue. We'll just have to live under the [federal] rules and regulations for a little longer."

HB43 would have prohibited Utah schools and districts from spending state and local money to carry out mandates in the federal law.

Federal officials made several trips to Utah to discuss HB43 and rebut arguments that Washington is overstepping its authority and underfunding its mandates with No Child Left Behind.

Although the debate in this so-called Chalkboard Rebellion remains contentious, neither side claimed victory Thursday.

"This is not a win or lose proposition," said Ken Meyer, deputy assistant U.S. secretary of education. "What we're hopeful of is that the legislatures would take a good close look at what is in the law and what isn't in the law. It takes a long time to wade through the misunderstanding and misinformation that's out there."

Likewise, Sen. David Gladwell said the move to study the law's impacts in greater depth was not a concession to the Bush administration.

The Ogden Republican pressed the Senate to hold off on the bill and send it back for more study.

"I don't think anyone buckled under pressure," he said. "We sent them the message loud and clear that we are a sovereign state and we treasure our sovereignty. We will rise up and shout again if we need to."

The interim study probably will focus on the costs of No Child Left Behind and whether the law's mandates conflict with state education policy, Dayton said.

No Child Left Behind is a dramatic reauthorization of federal laws governing programs and funding targeted at improving achievement among disadvantaged students, who historically have lagged their peers.

The law requires schools to show annual test-score gains in reading and math among ethnic groups, English learners, students with disabilities and low-income students. More than 200 Utah schools fell short of the law's standards this year. Schools face sanctions if they miss the same achievement goal for two or more consecutive years.

Dayton originally wanted to take a much stronger stand against No Child Left Behind. An earlier draft of HB43 sought to opt out of the law altogether, but such a drastic step would have cost Utah $106 million in federal education money, so Dayton and her colleagues backed off.

Other states are following her original lead, however. Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming and Minnesota now are considering legislation to drop out of the federal law entirely.

"Utah really opened up the dam, so to speak, as far as allowing other states to now jump onto this [wave] and introduce legislation," said Scott Young, an education policy associate with the National Conference of State Legislatures. "It took someone to really stick their neck out there and buck the trend for other states to follow the lead."

— Ronnie Lynn
No Child bill about to be left behind for the year
Salt Lake Tribune


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