House OKs bill to quit No Child Left Behind Act
Arizona Republic
March 27, 2008


Move would cost state $600 mil in U.S. education funds

Mary Jo Pitzl

The Arizona House of Representatives is on the verge of opting out of the controversial No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's premier educational accomplishment.

On a voice vote Wednesday, the House approved a bill sponsored by state Rep. David Schapira, D-Tempe, that would make Arizona the first state in the nation to leave behind the act and its education mandates. It would take effect on July 1, 2010.

But it would leave the state with a $600 million hole in its schools budget, as it would lose federal education dollars by opting out of the program.

That's a cost that some lawmakers, as well as state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, say isn't worth it, no matter how big the principle at stake.

"The problem is, we would lose over a half-billion dollars a year," he said. "And it would go to the schools that need it the most: the low-income schools."

House Education Chairman Mark Anderson said opt-out bills are nothing new to the Legislature, where most members have bristled at the level of federal control in No Child Left Behind. But this year, the idea seems to be gathering steam. House Bill 2392 could come up for a formal vote as early as next week. If it passed, it still would need Senate approval.

"I'm baffled this has gotten as far as it has when it has a price tag of $600 million," said Anderson, R-Mesa.

Some of the support stems from a change Schapira added to the bill Wednesday. If the state would not reimburse local school districts for the amount of lost federal dollars, Arizona would stick with No Child Left Behind.

Rep. Jackie Thrasher, D-Phoenix, who voted against an earlier version of the bill, said Wednesday's amendment won her support. Thrasher is a high-school teacher and said she didn't want to see the schools take a financial hit.

Authorities in other states also have become increasingly dissatisfied with No Child Left Behind. A bill in the Virginia General Assembly this year called for that state to opt out even though Virginia would stand to lose $300 million a year. A compromise this month would leave it up to the Virginia Board of Education to recommend what to do if the federal government doesn't exempt the state from some provisions of the law.

Anderson said the potential cost of the state making up the money that would be lost from the federal dollars is staggering, especially at a time when the state is trying to climb out of a $1.2 billion budget deficit.

Sure, he said, the state would save some money by not having to comply with No Child Left Behind mandates, but the savings would be minimal compared with $600 million.

"If you want to send a message, OK," Anderson said. "But don't opt out."

The Arizona Education Association has essentially the same message. Although the federal act has its problems, the money that's attached to it is too lucrative to give up.

"It's not a position we can support over the long term," association President John Wright said. "The federal money is too important, especially for the at-risk kids in our public schools."

Anderson said a more prudent approach is his own "message bill," which passed the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday on a 5-2 vote. It urges Congress to support the federal A-PLUS Act, which would allow states to opt into a federal education program with more local control.

Schapira voted for that bill but said it doesn't cancel out his opposition to No Child Left Behind.

"I don't like the mandates it puts on our teachers," said Schapira, himself a former high-school teacher.

Decisions on what should be taught should not come from a central command in Washington, D.C., he said.