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Lawmakers challenge No Child Left Behind

Ohanian Comment: You could probably count on one hand the number of politicians who

a) realize this is about a whole lot more than funding.

b) are willing to admit this is about a whole lot more than funding.

TRENTON - Four state assemblymen are preparing to take on the federal No Child Left Behind education act with a bill that would allow school officials at the state and local level to reduce or eliminate programs if they are not getting enough federal money to pay for them.

The proposed bill, A3970, would also allow school officials to put state standards and requirements first, and to seek waivers from federal requirements as they see fit.

Bill sponsor Assemblyman Douglas Fisher, D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem, said he agreed to be a primary sponsor because of the complaints and comments he has received from educators in his district.

"There is a growing chorus of discontent," he said. "No Child Left Behind is a good concept, but the schools are not getting the resources they need. We need to express our displeasure."

Fisher said the complaint he hears most is that the timetable and testing requirements for implementing the No Child Left Behind requirements are unreasonable and unrealistic.

No Child Left Behind requires that all public schools test all children in grades three through eight annually in language arts and math. It also requires that 100 percent of all students taking the tests pass them by 2014, including special education students and those with limited English skills.

Schools that fail to meet annual state testing benchmarks must provide students with tutoring. Schools that are designated "in need of improvement" must also develop corrective-action plans and may get more intense state intervention in their operations.

Urban schools in particular have complained that with their high enrollment of limited English-speaking, disadvantaged and special-needs children, it is unrealistic to expect that every child will pass the state tests. The state has allowed some leeway, but the majority of students must take, and ultimately pass, the tests.

Local school officials are also concerned that with state funding frozen at last year's levels, they will have to make up any additional costs with local property taxes.

"For us, it's mostly about resources" Fisher said. "We see the state constantly being squeezed by the federal government."

He said the state has an education system to be proud of, with a high percentage of students graduating from high school and going on to college.

The other primary sponsors of the bill are Assemblymen John Burzicelli D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem; Reed Gusciora, D-Essex; and Assembly Education Committee chairman Craig Stanley, D-Mercer.

Several other states also are considering bills that challenge No Child Left Behind. They include Utah, Connecticut, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Virginia and Vermont.

Last month, the National Conference of State Legislatures issued a report saying the federal government had, in effect, hijacked state education systems. The report asked the General Accounting Office to determine if the law is an unfunded mandate, and calculate how much it will cost for all states to meet the No Child Left Behind goals.

The report also said funding should be doubled, and that states should get back more control over which students are tested and when.

— Diane D'Amico


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