Funding For Education Mandate Moves Into Federal Court System

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State governments and school districts are joining forces with the National Education Association to file lawsuits against the federal government for not funding the No Child Left Behind law.

Most recently, Connecticut filed a suit saying NCLB's unfunded mandates were forcing the state to use local taxpayers' dollars to pay for the law's strict regulations.

Almost as soon as the suit was filed, National Education Association President Reg Weaver stepped up to applaud the state.

"Connecticut is taking a brave stand today by filing a lawsuit against the federal government, and the people of the state should applaud their elected leaders for standing up for children in this important matter," he said.

Last spring, several school districts in Michigan, Texas and Vermont teamed up with the NEA to file the first national lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education.

The suit asks the government to allow parents to spend their tax dollars in their local classrooms rather than paying for the rules and regulations the NCLB imposes on public schools.

It contends NCLB encourages bureaucracy and standardized testing rather than teacher-led, classroom-focused solutions.

About two months after the suit was filed, legal wrangling began between government lawyers and the plaintiffs. Government attorneys asked the court to dismiss the suit on technicalities. The plaintiffs responded with an explanation of why the lawsuit should not be dismissed. Oral arguments will be heard Oct. 19 in federal court.

"We look forward to this matter being heard in a court of law," Weaver said.

The NCLB act sets laudable goals that every good educator supports -- high standards, ensuring all students have quality teachers, and closing the achievement gap.

But the law fails to fully fund the act and punishes the rural and poorer districts that can't meet all the rigid rules and regulations imposed by NCLB.

An NEA study shows NCLB has fallen $27 billion short of what is needed by districts since it took effect in 2002.

While districts struggle financially to live up to the NCLB dictates of mandatory testing, money is being drained from classrooms that could be used to fund smaller class sizes, teacher training and salaries.

The NCLB act also has loopholes that exempt charter schools and evaluate public schools and their students and teachers by standardized test scores alone.

When NCLB was passed into law, it contained these words: "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to ... mandate a state or any subdivision thereof to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this Act."

It's time to live up to that promise.

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