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Utah Governor Voices Concerns Over No Child Regulations

WASHINGTON - Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. met Tuesday with Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, laying out Utah's reservations about the federal No Child Left Behind Act and seeking accommodations that would preserve the state's role in setting education standards.

While there were no breakthroughs, the meeting was productive and the dialogue will continue at the staff level in the coming days, said Huntsman's chief of staff, Jason Chaffetz.

"What is productive here is you have a new Secretary of Education and a new governor and they are both taking a fresh look at No Child Left Behind and how it pertains to Utah," Chaffetz said. "We have a ways to go, but I think we both understand each other much better and the governor will continue to be personally involved."

Huntsman plans to follow up today in a phone call with the secretary, and next week his education deputy, Tim Bridgewater, and other staff plan to continue the talks during a visit to Washington.

Huntsman has called a legislative special session for April 20 to give his office, state education leaders and federal officials more time to negotiate their differences on education oversight. The planned special session effectively stalled a bill before the Utah Legislature challenging the federal law's sweeping impact on state policies and resources.

"We're not there yet, but it's progressing," Chaffetz said.

Huntsman said Monday that he came to Washington with a list of 14 agenda items, spelling out the state's concern with the No Child Left Behind law. He said he was offering up Utah as a test case, to find ways to blend state and federal standards.

Passage of the No Child Left Behind Act is the most significant education accomplishment of the Bush administration, but Utah's Republican-dominated Legislature has chafed under the federal mandates included in the law and wants to opt out of some.

Utah already has received a special dispensation from the department regarding teacher qualifications and the Utah Legislature has made clear that it would rather use its own testing regimen rather than the federally mandated testing battery.

"It would be in the interest of the Department of Education to reach a compromise with the State of Utah," Huntsman said. "There are probably eight to 10 states right behind us with similar circumstances."

Huntsman also met Tuesday with Interior Secretary Gale Norton to discuss the state's opposition to a proposal by Private Fuel Storage, a consortium of electric utilities, to store high-level nuclear waste on the Skull Valley Goshute Indian reservation, 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

In addition to being licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the facility is seeking a right-of-way for a rail line across Bureau of Land Management territory surrounding the reservation.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is the trustee for American Indian tribes and is part of the Interior Department, also must approve the lease between the utilities and the American Indian tribe.

Chaffetz said Huntsman laid out the state's case, but discussions will take months, if not years, to play out.

— Robert Gehrke
Salt Lake Tribune


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