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Bill Takes Shot at Federal Schools Law

Whoever is named Minnesota's new education commissioner should be able to make some big changes in the controversial federal No Child Left Behind Act, House DFLers say.

Several DFLers announced Wednesday that they have authored a bill that would allow the next commissioner to seek permission from the federal government to change what they see as some of the bill's harshest provisions.

"Now that [former education commissioner Cheri Pierson] Yecke has left, we want to make sure we get off on a bipartisan foot with the new commissioner," said Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville. Yecke was fired by Senate DFLers on Sunday in the waning hours of the 2004 legislative session, when they voted not to confirm her. A new commissioner has not yet been appointed.

The DFL approach is a milder one than that taken earlier in the year, when some representatives and senators wanted to pull out of No Child Left Behind altogether, risking the loss of tens of millions in federal funds.

No Child Left Behind has been a burr in the saddle for many educators and legislators, who complain that it is too test-heavy and too punishment-oriented in the sanctions it prescribes for schools that don't meet testing goals. They charge that it sets student achievement goals that are impossible to achieve.

In the most recent proposal, the DFLers charged that the current timelines that schools must follow to raise their students' test scores are unrealistic, and that more state and federal funding is needed to help schools pay for the sanctions, rather than shuffling funds that are already there.

But the DFLers stressed that they wanted the framework of No Child Left Behind to stay intact. Their bill, which they called a work in progress, is likely to keep in place at least some sanctions against schools that don't make enough progress. Those include providing extra tutoring for students, transportation for students whose parents want them to go elsewhere, and even making staff and administrative changes.

Also, lists of schools that don't make sufficient progress as measured by NCLB-required tests can wind up on published lists of underperforming schools, which teachers and principals regard as black eyes.

"We're trying to walk a fine line because any accountability system needs consequences," said Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, and the bill's chief author. "We really don't want to let anyone off the hook."

But Greiling said she was uncomfortable with the federal law's ultimate sanction: state takeover of schools and districts that repeatedly fall short of meeting student improvement goals.

Norman Draper is at ndraper@startribune.com.

— Norman Draper
Star Tribune


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