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Utah Delays a Challenge to Federal Law

SALT LAKE CITY, March 1 - After weeks of legislative brinksmanship and behind-the-scenes negotiations with federal officials, Republican leaders in Utah said on Tuesday that they would delay action on a bill that has attracted nationwide attention as a bellwether challenge to President Bush's signature education law.

The bill would order state officials to give higher priority to Utah's educational goals than to compliance with the federal education law, known as No Child Left Behind. The Utah House approved it unanimously on Feb. 15, and the Senate gave its unanimous support in a preliminary vote on Monday.

But on Tuesday, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who returned from a Washington visit that included meetings with Mr. Bush and with Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, persuaded Republican legislative leaders to move final consideration of the bill into a special legislative session this spring, the governor said in a statement Tuesday evening.

The delay will give Mr. Huntsman, a Republican who has sharply criticized the federal law but also has close ties with Mr. Bush, time to continue seeking more flexibility for Utah in federal enforcement of the law, the statement said. The governor's staff has been negotiating with Department of Education officials over the federal law since late January, state officials said.

The bill, sponsored by Representative Margaret Dayton, a Republican, is one of the most assertive of a dozen or more proposals before state legislatures that protest the federal law, arguing in various ways that its language and regulations have intruded on states' rights to control local schools.

Aides to Mr. Huntsman said that the Legislature's consideration of the bill in recent weeks had been useful in persuading federal officials to reverse course in disputes over some aspects of the federal law, including teacher certification issues.

— Sam Dillon
New York Times


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