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Some Want to Leave Federal Law Behind

NCLB is "the greatest intrusion into states' rights in education we have seen in probably 100 year," said Sen. Jim Condos.

MONTPELIER Vermont legislators are considering whether the state should buck federal education policy by discarding the funding and requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Doing so would mean the state would lose more than $48 million in annual funding for the program. But the cost of implementing the testing, administration and educational requirements of the law, signed by President Bush in 2002, could be much more, opponents of the education reform plan said.

Some other states have considered opting out of the act, but have not yet done so. Bills to do so have been proposed in both the Vermont House and Senate.

William Mathis, superintendent of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, told the Senate Education Committee Thursday that making the changes necessary to bring schools into compliance with the act would cost four times as much as the state gets to implement it, according to his research.

The 50 or so studies done on the act in various states come up with different estimates of the act's cost to states.

Vermont Education Commissioner Richard Cate told the committee that the requirements of NCLB can be met."At this point we have adequate funding" to meet the act's requirements, although as the testing standards increase over the next decade funding may have to increase, he said.

The biggest problem facing the educational system is children growing up in poverty, and starting school behind, Cate said.

"As long as 30 percent of our kids walking in the front door of kindergarten are in poverty there is not a lot the schools can do about that situation," he said. "We all share in that responsibility."

Legislators have also been told that the state could be risking more than the $48 million in NCLB funding if it rejects the program. A 2004 letter by Undersecretary of Education Eugene Hickok makes it clear that other federal funding for education could be jeopardized if the states opt out of the program.

The same would likely be true in Vermont, said Patricia Sullivan, director of the independent Center on Education Policy in Washington D.C.

"The consequences of sending back the money (go) much farther than losing the No Child Left Behind money," she said. Vermont's Department of Education received about $104 million in federal funding in fiscal year 2004.

Sullivan, who was and remains apprehensive about the way NCLB interjects the federal government into state education policy, said that the goals of the act are good ones, and the problems with it may be corrected.

A proposal by President Bush to expand the act to include testing of high school students will probably not go forward in Washington, Sullivan said.

"I haven't seen a presidential proposal so dead-on-arrival in a long time," she said.

Two of the largest problems with the act are that it does not give enough flexibility and time for schools to help children with special needs and educational requirements, such as learning English, and the yearly goals may be too stringent, Sullivan said.

"This is going to change," she said. "There is too much pressure on members of Congress and the administration to leave things as they are."

But Mathis said the state cannot wait for the act to be reformed.

"I'm not sure hoping for relief is sound governmental policy," he said. The act, I think, is harmful to Vermont's educational goals," he said.

One reason is it trains students to take tests, not think, he said.

Liberal Vermont may have an unlikely ally in conservative Utah in the NCLB debate. Utah legislators, irked by federal imposition over what has traditionally been a state area, seriously considered a law opting out of NCLB last year, and have taken up a less extreme version this year.

According to an Education Week article a "posse from the U.S. Department of Education" traveled to Utah in 2004 to discourage the state from opting out of NCLB.

Some Vermont legislators also don't like the federal government interfering in education any more than their colleagues in Utah do.

NCLB is "the greatest intrusion into states' rights in education we have seen in probably 100 year," said Sen. Jim Condos, D-Chittenden.

— Louis Porter, Vermont Press Bureau
Times Argus


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