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State's lawsuit against No Child Left Behind act gains support

By Tobin A. Coleman

HARTFORD -- Almost 70 percent of Connecticut cities and towns are supporting a lawsuit against the federal No Child Left Behind act filed in August by state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Blumenthal will argue the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New Haven next week. But the Stamford and Greenwich school boards have not voted to back the legal action despite the widespread support.

He said yesterday the support shows "something profound about the mounting opposition across our state and nation" to No Child Left Behind.

"Connecticut strongly supports the goals of No Child Left Behind in imposing accountability, closing achievement gaps and raising achievement results for all our students," Blumenthal said at a news conference in his office. "But the federal government is impeding and blocking successful implementation of the goals."

Blumenthal said that, as of yesterday, 111 of 169 city and town boards of education had formally voted to back the lawsuit.

Stamford's board in September voted 4-3 not to support the legal action, which charges that the federal government cannot impose the increased student testing and other requirements of No Child Left Behind without paying for them. Stamford board members said they were concerned about losing the benefits of the law, which provides some funding for improving student achievement.

The suit also challenges No Child Left Behind requirements that special education students be tested at grade level, rather than at their instructional level, and that English as a second language students be tested within a year of enrolling in a Connecticut school. The state had allowed such students three years before taking standard tests in English.

The eight-member Greenwich school board is deciding whether to accept Blumenthal's request to speak to members about the lawsuit.

"At this point, I have no idea what anyone thinks about it," Greenwich school board Chairwoman Colleen Giambo said yesterday. Giambo said she has been polling board members.

Among lower Fairfield County municipalities, Norwalk, New Canaan, Darien, Westport and Wilton boards of education have voted to support the lawsuit. Weston has not.

Democrat Blumenthal's lawsuit has bipartisan support, including that of Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell. The suit asks the court to order the federal government to pay for all No Child Left Behind mandates or grant Connecticut a waiver of any requirements that cost state and local taxpayers money. The lawsuit said the law cost state taxpayers $41.6 million more than the federal government paid to support its mandated testing, staffing and training last year.

Members of Connecticut's congressional delegation have sought additional funding for the state.

When the lawsuit was filed, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings called it troubling. She said states might be fearful of test results showing their students are not meeting education goals. The federal government has filed a motion to dismiss the case.

Connecticut is the only state that has filed suit against the 2001 law, championed by President Bush. But other states and education groups have complained that the act does not fully fund its requirements, something that the law itself says it must do, Blumenthal said. Other states are considering whether to join Connecticut or sue on their own.

Blumenthal yesterday was joined by school superintendents from New Haven, Clinton and Southington and the director of the Connecticut School Superintendent's Association who all said school boards support narrowing the achievement gap between whites and minority students and other goals of the law.

But they said No Child Left Behind, among other things, forces students to be tested too often, doesn't measure achievement accurately and unfairly lumps special education students in with other students in determining whether schools are meeting improvement goals.

-- Staff Writer Keach Hagey contributed to this story.

— Tobin A. Coleman
Norwalk Advocate


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