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Yahoo! Utah Republicans Prohibit Local Money for NCLB

In a rebuke to the Bush administration, the Utah House voted yesterday to prohibit the state's education authorities from using any local money to comply with the president's signature education law, No Child Left Behind.

The vote, by a Republican-dominated chamber, comes after weeks of criticism by lawmakers arguing that the federal education measure impinges on the state's right to set its own education agenda and that the cost of compliance would be too high.

Utah's defiance is the most politically embarrassing challenge by any state so far to the wide-ranging federal law, which penalizes schools that fail to meet rising targets on standardized tests.

The White House and Department of Education had been so concerned about the Legislature's action that they sent a combined delegation of senior officials to Utah last week to discuss the legislators' concerns.

The Utah House backed off a more strongly worded bill that would have forced the state to turn its back on the federal law altogether, a move that would have cost Utah $103 million in federal financing.

The bill that the House approved instead permits the state to spend the $103 million, but not a penny of state money, to meet the federal law's requirements, state officials said. It passed the House by a vote of 64 to 8, with 3 abstentions.

Representative Martin R. Stephens, the speaker of the House, called the measure a "statement bill."

"We are not opting out of No Child Left Behind, but there is some disparity of agreement about whether it's fully funded," Mr. Stephens said after Tuesday's vote. "So as we implement the law, we'll find out. If it is fully funded, then we'll implement it. And, if it's not, if there are requirements for which there are not enough federal funds, then we won't."

To become law, the measure needs the approval of the Senate, which Republicans control 22 to 7, and Gov. Olene S. Walker's signature. Steven O. Laing, Utah's state superintendent of public instruction, said in an interview after Tuesday's vote that he considered it likely that the bill would become law.

"We'll spend the federal money we get, and that's as much as we'll be able to do," Dr. Laing said. "And then we'll be subject to the consequences that come when we're not able to meet our moral obligation to help all students meet a rising standard."

Representative Margaret Dayton, an Orem Republican who was the bill's sponsor, argued to the White House and Education Department officials who visited Utah last week that the federal law violated states' rights, federal and state officials who sat in on the meetings said.

Eugene Hickok, the acting deputy secretary of education, said after the vote that he understood Utah's concerns for states' rights, but he disagreed with some legislators' assertion that the federal law injured them.

"This is just the politics of the process," Dr. Hickok said. "Every time the federal government gets engaged in education policy, some states get nervous. They have a concern as federalists, but we believe that the law respects and honors the principals of federalism."

The Utah vote was, for the Bush administration, the most troubling of a series of state measures that have either challenged the law or required studies to determine whether its costs are higher than the federal money it brings.

In January, the Virginia House of Delegates, which Republicans control, passed a resolution, 98 to 1, calling on Congress to exempt Virginia and other states from the law's provisions. The Virginia legislators' main criticism of the federal law was not its cost but at the way they said it complicated Virginia's effort to continue its own respected homegrown effort to raise standards.

The Virginia resolution said the federal law involved the "most sweeping intrusions into state and local control of education in the history of the United States."

Last year, Vermont enacted a law similar to Utah's measure, also prohibiting state officials from spending any of Vermont's own money to comply with the terms of the federal law, said Scott Young, an education analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Although the Utah bill is similar to Vermont's law, the embarrassment to the Bush administration would be larger if it became law because Utah is so thoroughly dominated by Republicans.

— Sam Dillon
Utah House Rebukes Bush With Its Vote on School Law
New York Times


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