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New Hampshire Doesn't Like NCLB

Hanover -- The Dresden School Board has stated its opposition to the cost of implementing the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and other area school officials will start talking about the law at meetings this month.

Dresden board members approved putting on the annual Town Meeting warrant an article asking voters to condemn the federal education law's additional financial burdens.

“It will significantly add to our budget,” Margaret Cheney McNally, chairwoman of the Dresden School Board, said in an interview yesterday.

The New Hampshire School Administrators Association estimates that on average, New Hampshire school districts will have to spend an extra $575 per pupil each year to implement President Bush's education initiative, but will receive only about $77 per pupil from the federal government to cover those additional costs. That's an extra $109 million a year in a state already battling over how to satisfy a state Supreme Court decision that calls for all students to receive an “adequate education.”

Those cost estimates have New Hampshire educators arguing that the most sweeping change in the federal government's role in education since 1965 constitutes an unfunded mandate -- a federal requirement not backed by federal money -- and a loss of local control over education.

“I'm concerned that we're going down the road of another unfunded mandate when the feds haven't come up with the funds they already promised,” said Dean Michener, director of government relations for the New Hampshire School Boards Association.

Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law nearly a year ago. The law aims to improve the accountability of public schools by requiring states to test students. Schools that don't meet state standards must show improvement over years of testing. Failing schools that don't show improvement must, at the request of parents, use some of their federal funds to provide tutoring or transportation to another school that would better meet the student’s needs. The law also calls for better-trained teachers and teacher aides, better teacher pay and more special education spending.

The cost of those requirements is making area school administrators nervous as they prepare budgets for next year.

The Dresden School Board backed a resolution circulated by school officials from Somersworth that urges full federal funding of federal legislation. Dresden officials are still working on language for a warrant article that, if approved by Hanover and Norwich voters later this year, would say that the district opposes any and all unfunded and underfunded federal education mandates.

The Lebanon School Board had planned to discuss the law before the holidays, but had to put it off amid marathon budget discussions, said Superintendent Mike Harris.

Jim Feleen, a member of the Claremont School Board, said the proposed resolutions have not come up for discussion yet. “In principal that's certainly a resolution we can support,” he said. “The whole concern of unfunded mandates, whether state or federal, is very troubling.”

At issue for most school districts is the ballooning cost of special education. When Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act requiring schools to educate students with learning, behavioral or developmental disabilities in 1975, it promised to pay 40 percent of the cost of special education. The federal contribution now hovers around 15 percent.

“That's a 27-year-old promise that they've not made good on,” said Edie Miller, director of the Vermont School Boards Association. Miller said her organization is still studying the costs of implementing the law.

“As we've learned more and more about this … it gets bigger and bigger, and I think the costs are going to be truly enormous,” she said.

McNally, the Dresden chairwoman, said school officials are also concerned about redundancies between state and federal requirements. Vermont and New Hampshire both have a system of assessment tests. The No Child Left Behind Act requires still more tests.

“I'm sure it has its good sides,” she said of the law, “but for school districts that are already doing a lot it adds another layer of expense.”

In a response to the law's critics faxed to New Hampshire newspapers, Bush's education secretary, Rod Paige, argued that the law gives an additional $22 billion to the states for education, and gives local school officials more flexibility in how they spend federal funds.

Whether voters side with Paige or with their local school officials won't be clear until annual school district meetings later this year, and in 2004 when Paige's boss is up for re-election.

— Alex Hanson
Dresden School Board Opposes Costs of Education Law
Valley News
Jan. 2, 2003


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