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Utah State Senators Fire Off Missive to Bush on NCLB

Five days after declining to vote on a bill resisting No Child Left Behind, Utah's Republican state senators sent a letter to President Bush to make their opposition known.

The letter, dated March 7, gets the GOP caucus on record as supporting House Bill 135, which would have given preference to Utah's standards for school and teacher quality over those of the No Child legislation.

"It's a clear indication that the Senate would have passed HB135," Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, said Tuesday.

Twenty of the Senate's 21 Republican senators signed the letter - a direct challenge to Bush, who pushed No Child Left Behind as his top domestic priority when he took office in 2001. It was unclear Tuesday why GOP Sen. Al Mansell, R-Sandy, did not sign.

The measure passed unanimously in the House but stalled in the last days of the 2005 Legislature when Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. urged the Senate to postpone a final vote until an April 20 special session. Huntsman wanted to give his education deputy more time to negotiate with federal officials, and the Senate agreed.

"You don't want to drive such a hard bargain that there's no room to maneuver, and I think this approach is the way to go," said Senate Majority Leader Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City. "We just want the White House to know that we feel we're accomplishing the intent of No Child Left Behind legislation with what we already have in place."

The letter says what a final vote did not.

"At a minimum," the letter states, "we are looking for a written statement that assures the state of Utah full control of governance and accountability measures in Utah's schools. In addition, we need local control of our educator qualification, certification and licensure."

No Child Left Behind sets criteria for teacher quality and holds schools accountable for improving test scores among students of all ethnic, income and language groups, as well as students with disabilities.

Utah wants its own accountability system - the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students - to count toward No Child Left Behind compliance, but the feds have refused. The U.S. Department of Education also has a copy of the Senate's letter.

"We're reviewing the letter and look forward to continued progress with the governor's office," department spokeswoman Susan Aspey wrote via e-mail.

State Superintendent Patti Harrington and Huntsman education deputy Tim Bridgewater will meet with Department of Education officials in Washington in the coming weeks.

If an agreement can't be reached, HB135 would be renumbered and reconsidered in both houses next month. If it comes to that, the measure is expected to pass easily.


— Ronnie Lynn
Salt Lake Tribune


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