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Utah Trying to Figure Out Which Costs More: Accepting or Rejecting NCLB

Utah would lose $100 million a year in federal funding if the state opted not to comply with President Bush's No Child Left Behind education reform law, according to state Office of Education estimates.

Several lawmakers recently asked state office staff to evaluate the cost of rejecting the sweeping 2002 mandates, requirements some legislators and educators say are well-intentioned but underfunded and perhaps not feasible during such tough financial times. Associate state Superintendent Patrick Ogden will report his findings to the Public Education Legislative Task Force later this month.

The analysis is just one component of what will be a comprehensive evaluation of the law's fiscal, practical and philosophical ramifications for Utah schools, said Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, co-chairman of the task force.

"I understand when you're the lowest-funded public-education system in the nation, every dollar you can scratch, beg or borrow is important," Holdaway said. "At the same time, if this No Child Left Behind legislation is going to create more bureaucracy and more difficulty, then do we as a state want to line up behind it?"

The state Office of Education is calculating the cost of meeting the federal mandates. State schools Superintendent Steven Laing anticipates a need for additional teacher training, more frequent assessments of student learning, and, perhaps most importantly, additional services for struggling students.

"These are the very elements of what it will take to do No Child Left Behind," he said. "There's no question our [2005] budget request will include funds to help us do what No Child Left Behind is requiring."

At least 15 states across the country are initiating similar analyses as they grapple with budget deficits and unsavory cost-cutting proposals such as scaling back to a four-day school week and enlisting volunteer substitute teachers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonpartisan organization representing all 50 legislatures.

"The driving force behind this is the financial aspect," said conference spokesman Scott Young. "Everyone's behind the intent of the law, but I think most state legislatures would say there is going to be a fiscal impact, that states are going to have to spend more than what the federal government is providing."

The federal law requires states to bring students in every racial and demographic group up to grade level in reading and math by 2013-14. In the meantime, states must demonstrate progress toward that goal through annual improvement on standardized tests for students in grades three through eight and one grade in high school. Failure to show sufficient gains results in sanctions, such as allowing parents to take students to another school or teacher reassignments.

In addition, the law requires highly qualified teachers in every classroom, college-trained school aides and paraprofessionals, and research-based curricula.

Hawaii's House of Representatives passed a resolution urging state school officials to cease participation in No Child Left Behind. The measure failed in the Senate and was not supported by the state department of education, but it makes an important point, said Kathy Kawaguchi, the state's assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and student support.

"It will take more in order to do what is expected to the degree expected," she said.
Two similar bills are making their way through the Minnesota Legislature.

A New Hampshire association of administrators estimated the state would have to spend $570 in state funds for every $77 received in federal funds just to comply with No Child Left Behind.

Federal officials recognize states' reluctance to embrace the responsibilities and expenses related to No Child Left Behind.

"As a state legislature, as a state board of education, I can see why you'd begin to ask, 'Is it worth it?' " U.S. Department of Education Under Secretary Eugene Hickok said at a recent meeting of education writers.

Even so, he said, the federal agency will use the "bully pulpit" to encourage compliance with No Child Left Behind.

"I know this administration will have to withhold federal dollars from a state," he said.

— Ronnie Lynn
School Aid on the Line
Salt Lake Tribune
May 8, 2003


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