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NCLB Outrages

Minnesota Mumblings About NCLB's "Unwarranted Intrusion"

Ohanian Comment: Here we have NCLB being described as controversial again. Next thing you know they'll be terming it abusive, a tool of capitalism to make sure we have a compliant workforce for those minimum wage jobs.

All those new tests Minnesota kids will have to take won't be cheap.

It will cost Minnesota schools and the state an estimated $19 million a year to administer the new tests, and it could cost millions more to bring schools into line with a controversial federal law that sets tough academic standards for all students, according to a state report that was issued Thursday.

The report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor offers the first statewide glimpse of what it might cost to implement the No Child Left Behind Act.

Its findings created a bipartisan stir in the House Education Policy Committee, where it got its first public airing.

One Republican lawmaker lashed out at what he termed the law's unwarranted intrusion into local school district operations.

A DFL legislator charged that the law is a smokescreen for the school voucher movement, which supports giving public money to parents to send their children to private schools.

"It is my opinion that the goal is to prove schools are failing so we can go to the vouchers that you and President Bush support," said Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, to Cheri Pierson Yecke, the state's education commissioner.

The report was ordered last year to determine the impact of No Child Left Behind, which Bush signed into law in 2002. But the grand total proved elusive. Because that depends on future unknowns, such as how many schools will pay penalties for missing the law's high expectations, the report issued no total figure for what the law will cost.

Still, the report estimated that, in addition to the $19 million for testing, districts will have to spend up to another $20 million a year to offer options for parents with students at schools labeled underperforming, such as offering tutoring or providing transportation for students to attend other schools.

And there's more: Big additional costs could result from stiffer penalties for schools that continue to fall short of testing goals, and for purchases of textbooks and other necessary materials to bring district teaching in line with No Child Left Behind.

How much of the tab the federal government will pick up is also a squishy figure. Many educators and legislators charge that state and school districts' expenses will outstrip the federal funding allotted to help pay for it. The report won't commit to that scenario, but says it is "quite plausible."

The report also raised the specter that, as the years go by, more Minnesota schools will fail to meet the rising test-score expectations of No Child Left Behind. It estimated that 80 percent of Minnesota's elementary schools will not meet federal goals by 2014, the year every student is expected to meet those goals. That would subject them to costly penalties that could result in replacement of school staffs or the state taking over schools.

The long-awaited report no doubt will spur opposition to the law in the Legislature, where bills already have been introduced that either seek to opt out of the law, or seek to be let out of its more costly provisions. Indeed, House minority leader Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, issued a statement saying the auditor's report had convinced him that No Child Left Behind "is deeply flawed and not good for our kids in our schools," and that the state should try to get out of it.

But the report issued a warning to prospective rebels. Not only do they face losing much of the $216 million in federal No Child Left Behind funds earmarked for Minnesota for 2005, but few superintendents surveyed for the report are willing to thumb their noses at the law.

What's more, many of those superintendents agree in principle with what the law purports to do -- improve the academic performance of every child, including poor and minority children.

"This tells me they're willing to give the law time, and that they are confident we are acting on their behalf," Yecke said. She added that "rolling back any part of the requirements sends the wrong message and simply can't be an option."

But Yecke stressed that she has sought and gotten changes in the law that have made it easier for schools to pass muster. Only 8 percent of Minnesota's schools failed to meet No Child Left Behind performance goals in the 2002-03 school year. More changes are likely to come, she said.

"Compare that to other states where the number is over 80 percent," she said.

New tests that will be required by the law include math and reading tests in fourth, sixth and eighth grades; and three science tests to be given at various times during elementary, middle and high school.

The full report is online at www.auditor.leg.state.mn.us

— Norman Draper
State's school testing costs add up
Star Tribune


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