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Governor Backs Lawsuit by State
Despite some reservations, Gov. M. Jodi Rell has signed a law authorizing a legal challenge to a controversial federal school reform law that is the centerpiece of President Bush's education agenda.
Until now, Rell, a Republican, had been noncommittal about signing a bill challenging the President's No Child Left Behind Act, saying that she prefers negotiating with federal officials instead of suing them.
"I know this was difficult for her to do because, after all, she's a Republican governor, and the President believes [No Child Left Behind] is the right thing," said state Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg.
Rell's decision to sign a bill passed by the legislature in a special session last month gives added weight to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's threat to sue the U.S. Department of Education.
Blumenthal said Monday he plans to file the suit by the time schools open next month.
Even though the proposed lawsuit has not won the endorsement of the State Board of Education, the governor took into account Blumenthal's assessment "that it was extremely and profoundly important that this bill be passed in special session," according to a statement from Rell's press office.
"While the Governor feels fighting the Act is better left in the hands of the state's congressional delegation, she fully understands the attorney general's motivation and is interested in the outcome," said spokesman Adam Liegeot.
A spokesman at the U.S. Department of Education said Monday the department would not comment on the matter.
Blumenthal continues to seek support from other states after pledging three months ago to make Connecticut the first state to file a lawsuit challenging the federal law, contending it will unfairly cost state and local taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
"I am enormously pleased and thankful to the governor and the legislature for this measure strengthening our planned lawsuit against the illegal unfunded federal mandates," said Blumenthal, a Democrat.
"The stakes for Connecticut are huge."
The State Board of Education, however, last month refused to support the planned lawsuit, postponing a vote on the matter after some members said they were opposed to legal action.
Connecticut is one of many states that have clashed with the U.S.
Department of Education over No Child Left Behind. The law calls for a broad expansion of testing and a shake-up of schools that fail to make sufficient progress, including low-income children, special education students and members of minority groups.
The federal government has repeatedly rejected Connecticut's requests for flexibility in interpreting the law, including Commissioner Sternberg's appeal for a waiver of a requirement to test three additional grades in the state's annual testing program next spring. She said the additional testing will cost millions of dollars but will produce little benefit.
Sternberg praised Rell's decision to sign the law authorizing a lawsuit.
"Rather than taking a political stance, I think she considers what's right for the citizens," Sternberg said.
"I, too, shared her concern about jumping in too quickly, but ... I think we have no recourse. We're really being asked to spend a tremendous amount of money on programs that ... I don't think are in the best interest of students."
Blumenthal said he plans to file the suit "before the first day of school." About half the state's public schools start on Aug. 31, according to the state Department of Education. The earliest starting date is Aug. 24 in Groton.
Blumenthal said he remains hopeful that other states will join a lawsuit and expects to get final answers from them within weeks but added, "We will stand alone, if necessary, in this fight."
One of the states contemplating similar legal action is Maine.
"I have spoken with Attorney General Blumenthal a number of times on the potential for litigation," Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe said Monday.
"We in Maine are still evaluating the extent of the unfunded mandates contained in the federal law," he said. "We hope to be in a position to file suit within the next few weeks."
Robert A. Frahm
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