NCLB Resisters Emboldened by Breadth of Opposition

K-12 Testing

Vocal opposition to the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB) has reached a new peak with Connecticut’s decision to sue the federal government over imposition of added standardized tests without the funds to pay for them.

In filing the first state lawsuit against NCLB, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said, “The federal government’s approach with this law is illegal and unconstitutional.” He said he is talking to other state attorneys general about participating in the suit, claiming there is “fertile ground” because of widespread bipartisan dissatisfaction with the law.

Democratic Connecticut joins the deep red state of Utah in opposing NCLB. Utah’s increasingly bellicose threats to defy No Child Left Behind have gotten a lot of attention in Republican-controlled Washington. But Utah and Connecticut are far from alone in their efforts to combat NCLB’s mandates. Recent tallies show that at least 41 out of the 50 states have lodged protests of some kind, and 18 states are considering legislation to respond to NCLB.

Vermont Superintendent William Mathis has been tracking the growth of NCLB resistance and concurs that it is coming from across the political spectrum, though for differing reasons. “The cross-current may be explained by what many see as the intrusion of the federal government into state domains in violation of the Tenth Amendment while others see an underfunded, bureaucratic nightmare that represents, to them, bad educational practices. Yet others see NCLB as a stalking horse for advancing a school privatization agenda,” Mathis and two coauthors wrote in a report for the American Education Finance Association.

In April, Utah lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in support of legislation challenging NCLB's preeminence over the state's own accountability system. The Senate vote was 25 to 3, and the House voted 66 to 7 for the bill. State Education Superintendent Patti Harrington told the Salt Lake Tribune that she hoped relations would improve between state and federal officials, but, ”At every turn, they’re threatening us with the loss of funds.”

Minnesota legislators have joined the fray with a bill that demands substantial changes to NCLB. Minnesota State Sen. Steve Kelley sponsored the anti-NCLB bill, which would require NCLB’s testing and accountability goals to be scaled back. Kelley, who co-chaired the National Conference of State Legislatures’ task force on NCLB (See story, p. 16), expressed confidence that financial repercussions could be small or nonexistent, even though Minnesota risks $224 million a year in federal funds. “The number could be zero, because by then the revolt among the states could be so widespread and so serious that the federal government wouldn’t dare take the money away from the states,” Kelley said.

Before filing suit, Connecticut had requested a waiver of NCLB’s mandated expansion of school testing to grades three through eight, scheduled for next year. In denying the request, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings underscored her belief that annual testing is the heart of the law. It’s “the linchpin of the whole doggone thing,” Spellings said. Connecticut had argued that more testing would add little new information for its considerable expense.

Meanwhile, a Colorado Springs district joined the handful of localities willing to forgo federal funds to avoid NCLB mandates. The Academy 20 district could lose $421,000 in federal funding. The state education department maintains that schools that turn down the federal money still must show annual improvement as defined by the federal law.

Members of Congress continue to sign on to legislation to amend NCLB: More than 156 House members and 10 Senators have sponsored at least one bill. Legislation filed by Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska is the first from a Republican. His bill would allow states the flexibility to implement a localized testing system instead of statewide tests. Nebraska is battling to retain its local assessment system (see Examiner, Spring 2002).

Democratic Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd has refiled his bill, the No Child Left Behind Reform Act. It would make three primary changes to the law: allow states to use multiple measures to assess student achievement; target transfer and tutoring to students who most need them; and change the highly qualified teacher provisions to make them “both rigorous and reasonable.” Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) said he will also be re-filing a bill seeking changes to NCLB.

• Information on NCLB-related federal legislation and state legislation and resolutions is available here.