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States Fight NCLB, Calling It Intrusive

Susan Notes: Teachers and parents, what are you waiting for? Surely the time is ripe--and-right--for you to exert all the pressure you can against NCLB.

This article should give you hope that your voice can make a difference.

Don't remain silent! Speak up!! Act out!! Tell them you're mad as hell and aren't going to take it any more.

Two years after President Bush signed his far-reaching education reform law, lawmakers in Virginia, Utah and seven other states are taking steps to opt out or block using state funds for No Child Left Behind, calling the law an intrusion on local control.

The Republican-controlled Utah House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that would exempt the state from spending its own money on the law. The state Senate now considers it.

Virginia's House of Delegates last month approved a resolution asking Congress to exempt Virginia from the law's mandates.

Neither the Virginia nor the Utah effort would reject the federal law outright, but the state-level actions are significant because until now, educators have led the drumbeat. Now legislatures are willing to take a stand, and Republicans appear just as likely to protest as Democrats.

"Not only is it a massive federal intrusion, it's simply unworkable," says Jim Dillard, the Republican chairman of Virginia's House Education Committee. He calls the law "utopian nonsense."

Utah's House Education Committee originally approved a measure calling for the state to opt out. But after lawmakers met last week with federal officials, the House passed a compromise measure to keep Utah from spending state money on the law. Vermont's Republican governor already has signed a similar ban.

Maine and New Hampshire have proposed blocking state funds, while Arizona, Hawaii, Minnesota and New Mexico lawmakers have proposed opt-out measures.

So far, lawmakers in 20 states have asked the federal government for changes in the law or for more money; six are studying the law's costs.

Few think states are prepared to opt out, thereby giving up their share of $12.7 billion in federal funding attached to the law. But state protests could persuade federal officials to loosen rules such as those requiring disabled and non-English-speaking students to take the same tests as others.

Utah's protest has moved "beyond the table-pounding stage," says Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy. "They were trying to get the federal government's attention. They did."

But schools still must fulfill the law's requirements. "This doesn't really help educators," he says. "It's thumbing their nose at the federal government, but it doesn't help the teacher in the classroom."

Education Undersecretary Eugene Hickok, who oversees the law's implementation, says he "wouldn't overstate what's going on. Legislators have constituents, whether Republican or Democrat. This law has caused ... anxiety because it calls for a change in the way they do business."

But protests already have prompted federal officials to reconsider rules for non-English-speaking students. Hickok says he's also willing to negotiate on teacher requirements in rural areas.

Jennings says 28% of schools risk being labeled "in need of improvement" under the law. That dilemma is expected to top governors' agendas when they meet with Bush Feb. 23.

"Governors would look forward to working cooperatively in achieving the goals of NCLB," says New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, a Democrat. "Yet when you have some of the finest school districts in the nation being designated 'in need of improvement' or 'failing' because of an arbitrary benchmark, the legislation needs an agonizing reappraisal."

Hickok says districts are not obliged to accept federal money, which equals 5% to 10% of their education funds.

But Jennings says losing 5% would be substantial. "It's not an easy dilemma for the states."

— Greg Toppo
States fight No Child Left Behind, calling it intrusive
USA Today


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