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Lawmakers Knock 'No Child'
A bill and a resolution viewed as knocking President Bush's signature education program are headed to full Senate debate this week.

HJR3, sponsored by Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, and HB135, sponsored by Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, put Utah's education priorities above the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Both have gotten unanimous support in the House and unanimous committee approval in the Senate.

The measures have garnered national attention -- and apparently turned heads in Washington, D.C.

Holdaway calls his HJR3 a message bill about federal intrusion on states' rights to oversee public education.

"It's not a federal role," Holdaway said.

HJR3 is the "culmination" of Holdaway's work for the past year with a National Conference of State Legislators task force, which is expected to release a report on NCLB Wednesday.

Holdaway and committee members agreed that the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students (U-PASS), a program requiring multiple tests and public reports to hold schools accountable for student achievement, fulfills the "spirit" of NCLB.

NCLB aims to have, by 2014, all kids reading and doing math well. Critics say the goal is laudable but dislike its inflexibility and one-size-fits-all approach.

Friday's approval of HJR3 is part of what State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington called a "full court press" on getting federal officials to see public education Utah's way.

The risk is that Utah stands to lose about $107 million, 7 percent of its public education budget, if it doesn't comply with NCLB. Harrington assured committee members that if it came down to a "standoff" with the federal government that Utah would give in rather than risk losing the funds.

It's a change from last legislative session when lawmakers were considering a bill that would have meant Utah would simply opt out of NCLB. Dayton pulled that bill for interim study after federal officials came to Utah's Capitol Hill and talked about monetary consequences.

Now, she's carrying HB135, which gives Utah education goals priority over NCLB's, particularly when it comes to state resources and doing what's best for children. Dayton reassured committee members her bill does not jeopardize federal education funds.

Committee chairman Sen. David Thomas, R-South Weber, said he likes language in HB135 that he believes would create a "PR nightmare" for the federal government if it were to pull funds from Utah for its stance on NCLB.

Federal officials appear more willing to work with Utah in its desires to use U-PASS to meet NCLB requirements and state licensing requirements to meet highly qualified teacher rules.

Even if Utah gets the federal OK, lawmakers still should pass the bills into law, Harrington said.

"Her bill covers the entirety of No Child Left Behind, indeed the entirety of federal regulations, and asserts state rights and state priorities," Harrington said. "Hers is a bill of principle."

E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com

— Stephen Speckman and Jennifer Toomer-Cook
Deseret Morning News


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