Conflict over
No Child Left Behind
rages unabated


A national teachers union and school districts in three states have sued the U.S. Department of Education over funding for the law.

THE Bush administration's attempt to quell a swelling revolt against its signature public education law has failed to appease school districts and state officials, as evident in a federal lawsuit filed last week.

The suit brought by districts in three states and the National Education Association -- the nation's largest teachers union with which the Hawaii State Teachers Association is affiliated -- poses the most significant challenge to the No Child Left Behind law to date.

School districts and states have been unhappy with the law, complaining the administration has not delivered adequate funds to carry out its initiatives. Hawaii's lawmakers were among the first to object, saying insufficient funding makes reaching its stringent standards impossible.

The suit accuses the Department of Education of violating a clause in the law and legal scholars believe it makes a forceful case. The clause expressly forbids federal officials to require states to spend their own money to carry out the federal policies outlined in NCLB. The administration contends that states have not shown their costs have increased, despite several studies that exhibit otherwise.

Hawaii has estimated that the federal government has provided less than one-fifth of the costs of implementing the law and although the state has largely adopted the law's requirements, it has had to direct considerable funds toward testing and myriad compliance matters that it had preferred to spend in other areas.

Surprisingly, rebellion has come from strongly Republican states. Texas has joined Michigan and Vermont schools in the lawsuit.

In Utah, a Republican-dominated legislature approved a measure requiring educators to spend as little state money as possible in carrying out NCLB, defying warnings from federal Education Secretary Margaret Spellings that it stands to lose $76 million in federal funds.

"I'd just as soon they take the stinking money and go back to Washington with it," said Steve Mascaro, a Republican House member.

Utah cites the same provision in the lawsuit as its reason for limiting spending. Connecticut, whose Republican governor, M. Jodi Rell, has quarreled publicly with Spellings, also plans to use the clause in its own lawsuit against the federal government and is asking other states to join in. Hawaii should consider doing so.

Spellings has tried to tamp down resistance, promising flexibility and possible exemptions for states that exhibit "good behavior." However, without clear benchmarks for what that entails, the idea raises questions about preferential treatment and could devalue the law's objectives, which remain worthy.

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