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State Panel Aims to Limit Funds for 'No Child' Act

Ohanian Comment: Although this approach is also about money, I applaud it as a first round volley. States should not foot the bill for federal mandates. Period. If the feds provided the money, then everybody could get into a philosophical discussion about accepting it. But a good starting point is just to say no. Loudly and clearly: NO!

AUGUSTA - If the federal government wants state educators to implement the No Child Left Behind Act, it is going to have to provide the money to do so. That was the message delivered by lawmakers Monday when they gave final approval to a resolve that prohibits state funds from being used to implement No Child Left Behind.

Supporters of the bill have contended that No Child Left Behind represents an unfunded federal mandate and want assurances that state funds will not be used to fill that gap.

Supporters also have stated their belief that the state's Learning Results program is better suited to Maine schoolchildren than is the federal program. Learning Results has been in place since 1997. No Child Left Behind became law in 2001.

"No Child Left Behind has been a confusing and unnecessary federal mandate," the sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Michael Brennan, D-Portland, said Monday. "This bill is significant because it makes it clear to Maine educators that implementing Maine's Learning Results is our top priority. State resources will be utilized to support the extraordinary efforts of Maine teachers who are making Learning Results work in our state."

The resolve does allow the Department of Education to use state funds to conduct an investigation into the long-term costs of participating in No Child Left Behind. It also requires Commissioner of Education Susan Gendron to determine each year whether schools are meeting state standards in order to comply with provisions of the federal act.

Although the federal Department of Education has increased its contributions to the state for educational purposes, the amount still is not enough to cover the cost of implementing NCLB, Gendron informed the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee earlier this year.

The federal government provided the state with $93 million for education last year, some of which was used to implement parts of NCLB. The state spends more than $1.6 billion on education annually.

Under NCLB, states are required to have standardized testing in place from grades three onward. The federal program also requires states to sanction schools and teachers that fail to meet established sets of guidelines. Learning Results also requires testing but not as frequently as NCLB. Learning Results aims to assist schools that underperform, rather than punish them.

"Teachers, administrators and local school budgets are burdened by the requirements of No Child Left Behind," said state Sen. Neria Douglass, D-Auburn, chairwoman of the education committee. "This resolve allows us to comply within the federal resources Maine receives, but protects us from further costs."

Maine is not the only state concerned with the long-term costs of NCLB. Deputy Commissioner Patrick Phillips said Tuesday that Maine has aligned itself with an association of state school leaders from across the country to investigate those costs and "make sure that we're all asking similar questions."

Phillips said that because the ability to separate state and federal funds within the overall system was "difficult to untangle," there was "some benefit to linking with other states on this study."

Maine also is among the 14 states whose education leaders have signed a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige saying they want to use their own methods to gauge a school's performance rather than those outlined in NCLB.

Brennan's bill requires the Maine Department of Education to review whether or not NCLB standards match Learning Results and report its findings to the Legislature's education committee by mid-January.

— Walter Griffin
Bangor Daily News


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