Saturday, January 31, 2004



The Utah Legislature protested the spread of federal intervention into public schools Thursday when its education committee voted unanimously to turn down $103 million in “No Child Left Behind” funding.

I guess they meant there’s at least one state in the union that will fight the nationalization of public schools, and “this is the place.”

Could Nebraska follow suit? Interesting question. I’d love to see it.

The bold move, which would return about one-third of Utah’s federal K-12 education receipts, is sure to have a ripple effect in states like Nebraska, which counts $108.2 million in NCLB funding among its total $278.3 million in federal K-12 money.

“No Child Left Behind” is the Bush administration’s continuation and expansion of the federal education programming begun under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society and formerly called the “Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”

Besides NCLB, local schools receive federal funding for Title I programming directed at disadvantaged children, and for special education. All are only partial reimbursements for actual expenses, but schools increasingly say they can’t get along without federal money. Nationwide, federal funds make up about 7 percent of a typical school district’s revenues.

Education observers say NCLB deepens and widens the nationalization of American schools that was started as Goals 2000, originally under President Bush Sr., then President Clinton. It is characterized by standards and assessments in schools which are essentially the same nationwide. Since curriculum and assessments are aligned to the standards, it amounts to de factor standardization of schooling around the country.

The federal funding is the “carrot” intended to get compliance from revenue-happy lawmakers and educrats. The standards are generally understood to be minimums; in practice, observers say, they have “dumbed down” K-12 education and been counter-productive to academic excellence.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune (www.sltrib.com), the effort led by Rep. Margaret Dayton of Orem signaled that the issue was state’s rights. The lawmakers also were protesting the fact that even when you take millions to institute a federal education initiative like NCLB, you have to divert even more millions from other state and local projects in order to pay for everything that’s mandated, but not funded.

One of the Utah lawmakers called NCLB “the Federal Education Blackmail Act,” since local education authorities give up control over important areas such as choice of curriculum to the feds in exchange for the money.

The move is reminiscent of a few years ago, when education reformers cheered as former Gov. Fob James of Alabama turned down the federal education funding of Goals 2000. He said it was an attempted takeover by the federal government of the public schools, which under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution are supposed to remain under local and state control.

The Utah lawmakers pointed to a study from the Jordan school district that estimated that remediation expenses in that district alone, required by NCLB, would total $41.8 million; reducing class sizes to the 18 per teacher mandated by the federal law would cost another $31 million; hiring more qualified teachers’ aides would cost $28.4 million, and “other” expenses such as training and mentoring would total $51 million.

Meanwhile, Utah’s pupils are consistently ranked among the top in the nation on standardized tests.

Federal officials protested that the Jordan figures were inflated.

The Utah vote echoes similar measures under consideration in states including Virginia, New Hampshire and Hawaii to turn back the money and come out from under NCLB edicts.

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