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President's Initiative to Shake Up Education Is Facing Protests

Democratic legislators in Oklahoma were so unhappy with President Bush's No Child Left Behind school improvement law that they drafted a resolution calling on Congress to overhaul it. But at the last minute one of the state's most conservative Republicans, State Representative Bill Graves, stepped up with his own suggestion: Tell Congress to repeal it entirely.

The resolution passed, and Mr. Graves got a standing ovation.

"Some of my Republican colleagues grumbled because they don't like to see the Democrats jumping on President Bush," Mr. Graves said. "But I've always thought Bush was wrong to push that law."

There is little chance that Congress will amend, much less repeal, the law in an election year, experts said, but the unusual alliance in the Oklahoma Legislature reflected the widespread outcry that the president's signature education initiative has provoked. Like similar measures being debated in legislatures across the country, the Oklahoma resolution brought together liberal Democrats and states' rights Republicans, angry over what they see as a cumbersome federal intrusion on local schools.

Legislation or resolutions that call on Congress to amend or repeal the law, prohibit spending state money to carry it out, or otherwise criticize the law have been passed by one or both legislative chambers in at least 12 states. And the actions reflect broader public discontent.

"The pot is definitely boiling on this law," Senator Arlen Specter, the powerful Republican chairman of an education subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said on Friday, noting that 138 Pennsylvania superintendents protested provisions of the law in a meeting Monday. "The law is good on standards and accountability, but it clearly needs some modifications, because it's going through growing pains."

Mr. Specter invited several of the superintendents to the Senate, where they and Education Secretary Rod Paige testified on Thursday. Mr. Specter said he wanted Mr. Paige to hear the superintendents' criticisms.

Susan Aspey, a Department of Education spokeswoman, said that the responses of the legislatures and protests by some superintendents were to be expected as provisions of the 2002 law, which seeks to shake up public education, are put into place.

"One hundred or so superintendents and a handful of state resolutions, only a few of which have actually passed both houses, hardly qualify as a widespread rebellion," Ms. Aspey said. "No one should be surprised, and we certainly aren't, that there is some anxiety about change. It's a sign the law is working."

Mr. Bush is portraying the law as one of his major domestic achievements. At a fund-raiser on Thursday in Santa Clara, Calif., he called it "a really good piece of legislation."

Yet the outpouring of objections from state legislatures has forced the White House and Department of Education officials to travel the country, putting out brush fires.

In Utah, the White House won a hard-fought victory. Last month the Republican-controlled Utah House embarrassed the administration by passing a bill to prohibit Utah authorities from spending state money to carry out the federal law. But after three visits to the state by Bush administration officials, the Utah Senate consigned the bill to a committee, where Senator David L. Gladwell, a Republican sponsor of the bill, said it would be studied for the foreseeable future.

But criticism of the federal law appears to be continuing elsewhere. The Idaho Legislature last week approved a resolution praising the law's objective of raising student achievement, but urging major changes. On Wednesday, the Connecticut Senate unanimously approved a resolution asking Congress to grant waivers from the law's provisions to states like Connecticut that have high education standards.

In Oklahoma, a resolution introduced by a Democratic legislator criticized as "inappropriate" provisions in the federal law that require special education students to achieve at the same rate as other students, and used the same adjective for a passage that would classify thousands of veteran teachers across the nation as "not highly qualified."

Mr. Graves offered, and Democrats in the state House quickly accepted, an amendment saying Congress should repeal the law because it lacked constitutional authority over education and had not provided financing for the law's mandates.

On Feb. 24 the Oklahoma House approved the resolution.


— Sam Dillon
New York Times
http://query.nytimes.com/mem/tnt.html?tntget=2004/03/08/education/08CHIL.html&tntemail1


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