Original URL: http://www.dailystar.com/dailystar/opinion/9909.php
Defying No Child Left Behind
Arizona Daily Star
Arizona’s legislators are right to oppose President Bush’s “No Child Left
Behind” plan, and to the degree they can be creative and persistent in getting
their opposition heard, they will serve the state well. But they should stop
short of outlawing participation in the federal program, as the House of
Representatives appears ready to do.
The reason is simple: Money. A state already known for underfunding its public
schools cannot afford to walk away from the $327 million in federal public
school aid that comes to Arizona, even if some of that money comes tied with
some fairly offensive strings.
Rep. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, is sponsoring House Bill 2696, which prohibits
Arizona schools from participating in the federal act that Bush made the
centerpiece of his education agenda. The bill has 46 other sponsors in the House
Many national education reform efforts have failed in recent decades, but none
have imploded as quickly and as thoroughly as Bush’s plan. It was criticized
from the start as being underfunded and an inappropriate intrusion of the
federal government into state responsibilities.
In recent months, however, that criticism has turned into active resistance -
most remarkably, from a political point of view - by Republicans.
The Utah House Education Committee on Jan. 29, for instance, voted unanimously
to withdraw from the national act. Nearly three-fourth of the Utah House seats
are held by Republicans. Likewise, Virginia’s Republican-led House in January
strongly approved a resolution calling the No Child Left Behind Act “the most
sweeping federal intrusion into state and local control of education in the
history of the United States.”
In other states, several districts have rejected the federal money rather than
comply with the act. And at least seven states have passed resolutions
criticizing the law or seeking waivers.
The criticisms are justified. President Bush has made no effort to provide
sufficient money for the states to fully implement the far-reaching law with its
requirements for student achievement as well as school staffing.
More narrowly, some of the law’s requirements are unrealistic, such as its
mandate that states must bring every student up to proficiency in reading and
math by 2014. That’s a standard experts say has never been achieved by any state
Given that background, Johnson and other legislators are on solid ground in
criticizing Bush’s program.
But reality has to intrude, too. Arizona cannot afford to walk away from federal
money equal to a tenth of its public education budget. The feds, after all, are
not asking the states to do anything immoral or even inappropriate.
So far, the Bush administration has tried to deflect the criticisms.
In one sense, this is a massive game of chicken to see who will waiver first,
the states or the feds.
The stakes are very high - billions of dollars. But even though the feds control
the dollars, the states ultimately may have the leverage.
This is an election year, after all, and Bush wants to be re-elected. The
possibility of changes in the plan increase every time a Republican-led
legislature or state speaks out.