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Connecticut Legislature Supports Attorney General's Lawsuit
Ohanian Comment: Why do you suppose the Connecticut state Board of Education voted against the lawsuit?
The state Legislature has given overwhelming support to Atty. General Richard Blumenthal's efforts to sue the U.S. Department of Education over the No Child Left Behind Act (NLCB).
Last Wednesday, the state House voted 80-34 to support Blumenthal's plan to appeal the federal government's mandate, imposing expensive, unfunded requirements as part of the NCLB.
State representatives voted on an emergency certification bill. Emergency certification is a process used for a bill intended for a special legislative session.
State senators voted 23-9 in favor of Senate Bill 2004. "I think he has the backing of most of the people in Hartford," said state Sen. George "Doc" Gunther (R-21). "I think the challenge is proper."
Gunther said he did not like the way the federal government could impose such mandates and then not appropriately fund them. He further said this was one of the areas where the state could adequately handle matters, without the federal government having to mandate everything.
The NCLB, an initiative pushed by President George Bush, aims to close the achievement gap among groups of students, especially those from disadvantaged areas.
However, state officials and educators have criticized the NCLB for mandating tests and standards but not providing the corresponding funding to pay for them. The need to fund these mandates have can lead to strained municipal budgets, they say.
Blumenthal's April 5 announcement that he was preparing legal action against the federal government elicited criticism from top officials at the U.S. Education Department. But Blumenthal and many educators in the Valley and across the state say the NCLB Act would require Connecticut to spend millions of dollars to conduct superfluous testing when appropriate testing mechanisms already are in place. The state has a successful, 20-year history of alternate grade testing, they say.
The NCLB further law mandates that only 1 percent of school children - specifically, those with severe developmental delays or learning handicaps - may be exempt from regular standardized testing. This dictate worries educators and parents alike, as children designated for special education will be forced to take tests geared for students at regular education levels.
Despite a revision of the NCLB law that would increase the number of special education students eligible to receive individualized testing from 1 to 2 percent, Blumenthal said he is still determined to sue.
He was pleased with the state Legislature's show of support.
"This strong legislative support can help stop hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in illegal, federal unfunded mandates," he said. "It reflects a growing groundswell from town school boards, educators and citizens across the state. The stakes for Connecticut are huge - indeed, hundreds of millions of dollars beginning this fiscal year July 1.
"I would prefer the conference room, not the courtroom, in seeking the full funding or flexibility. But the federal government has been invariably inflexible and rigid, repeatedly rejecting our key requests, as recently as last week. Litigation is always a last resort, but we now have no choice in protecting our children and taxpayers.
"We will begin legal action very soon, after we finish consulting with other states, local school boards, educators and citizens to mobilize maximum support," he said.
State Rep. Richard Belden (R-113) said he voted against the lawsuit because the state Board of Education voted against suing.
"We ought to uphold their position," he said, adding that he thinks many of his Republican colleagues voted in the same vein.
Shelton's other state representative, Larry Miller (R-122), was unavailable for comment.
Belden said he didn't think a lawsuit was the best way to approach the issue, noting it may turn the federal government off from dealing with the issue.
The bill is awaiting Gov. M. Jodi Rell's signature.
Susan Hunter and Ed Harris
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