School Districts Sue Dept of Ed over NCLB
From eSchool News staff and wire service reports, April
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Education Association (NEA), eight school districts, and teacher
organizations in 10 states on April 20 filed suit in federal
district court accusing the Bush administration of failing to
meet provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that
require federal funding sufficient to meet the demands of its
The NEA, which represents more than 2.7 million educators
nationwide, and the other plaintiffs allege the federal
government has failed to live up to its promise to pay for the
costs associated with implementing and achieving the goals set
forth under the law and instead has saddled states and local
school systems with what amounts to a myriad of unfunded
Even as the NEA and the other plaintiffs were headed toward the
court house, President Bush defended the law at a White House
ceremony. "I love the spirit of the No Child Left Behind Act,"
the president said. "I suspect the teachers love the spirit of
challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations."
Dennis Pollard, an attorney representing schools in Pontiac,
Mich., said the lawsuit was strictly about funding. "There is no
intent to frustrate the purpose of No Child Left Behind," he
The lawsuit accuses the government of shortchanging schools by
at least $27 billion, the difference between the amount Congress
authorized and what it has spent.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, as chief enforcer of the
law, is the defendant. She is accused of violating the law and
the spending clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Bush is facing NCLB battles on other fronts, too. The
Republican-led Utah Legislature voted Tuesday to put its
educational goals ahead of the federal law despite the possible
loss of $76 million, Connecticut is planning its own lawsuit,
and other states are balking over money.
According to the NEA lawsuit, the rising costs associated with
the sweeping federal law are forcing schools to divert important
dollars from other endeavors, including class-size reduction,
teacher retention and training, and the continued integration of
technology in the nation's classrooms. Without adequate funding,
the plaintiffs argue, the law's promise is unattainable--and
teachers are denied any chance of preparing students for the
demands of the 21st century.
"Today we're standing up for children, whose parents are saying,
'No more' to costly federal regulations that drain money from
classrooms and spend it on paperwork, bureaucracy, and big
testing companies," said NEA President Reg Weaver in a
statement. "The principle of the law is simple; if you regulate,
you have to pay."
But the NEA says the White House is attempting to reduce the
NCLB funding shortfall by taking money from other programs and
putting it toward the testing and accountability requirements of
The loss of certain programs, including such core technology
initiatives as the $500-million Enhancing Education Through
Technology (EETT) block grant and the program for 21st Century
Learning Centers, critics argue, would unjustly siphon money
from the nation's classrooms and put it toward the creation of
more high-stakes tests.
The plaintiffs say they filed the suit because the
administration has not heeded the specific demands of NCLB,
"Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize an officer
or employee of the Federal Government to mandate, direct, or
control a State, local education agency, or school's curriculum,
program of instruction, or allocation of State or local
resources, or mandate a State or any subdivision thereof to
spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this Act."
"What it means is just what it says--that you don't have to do
anything this law requires unless you receive federal funds to
do it," said NEA general counsel Bob Chanin. "We want the
Department of Education to simply do what Congress told it to
do. There's a promise in that law, it's unambiguous, and it's
not being complied with."
The NEA says the lawsuit is not about stopping NCLB, but about
forcing the "Bush administration to follow the requirements of
its own law and pay for the regulations it is imposing on
In defense of its actions, the U.S. Department of Education (ED)
responded by calling the lawsuit "regrettable" and accused the
NEA and the other plaintiffs of not looking at the whole
At the White House, spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush has
overseen "historic levels of funding" and a commitment to
holding schools to high standards. States are making strong
achievement gains under the law, she said.
According to ED's Press Secretary Susan Aspey, "President Bush
and Congress have provided historic funding increases for
education, and yet we continue to hear the same weak arguments
from the NEA." Added Aspey: "Four separate studies assert the
law is appropriately funded and not a mandate."
But the plaintiffs cite studies of their own, outlining billions
of dollars in extra expenses required to meet the law's
mandates. They include the costs of adding testing, getting
children up to grade level in reading and math, and ensuring
teachers are highly qualified.
The plaintiffs want a judge to order that states and schools
don't have to spend their own money to pay for the law's
expenses--and to bar ED from yanking federal money from a state
or school that refuses to comply based on those grounds.
"It is the cruelest illusion to give the children a promise that
we never intended to keep," said Bill Mathis, superintendent of
the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union in Vermont, one district
in the suit.
ED disagrees. "No Child Left Behind is, at its core, about
fairness and educational opportunity for all students," said
Aspey. "The preliminary results are in, and in just three short
years, states across the nation are showing strong gains in
student achievement. The achievement gap--decades in the
making--is finally starting to narrow."
The suit, Pontiac School District v. Spellings, was filed in the
United States District Court for the Eastern District of
"The school district has to pay for this law, and it is taking
away from my child's classroom subjects like music, art, foreign
languages, social studies, and sports," said Jose Zuniga, a
parent from Laredo, Texas. "Those activities are being replaced
with high-stakes, high-stress tests that don't help my child
Rather then fight the law, Aspey said, NEA and the other
plaintiffs should work with federal officials to achieve a
"We intend to continue moving forward in partnership with
national and state education leaders, and look forward to the
day when the NEA will join us in helping children who need our
help the most in classrooms, instead of spending its time and
members' money in courtrooms," Aspey said.
Here are the school-district plaintiffs:
· School District of the City of Pontiac (Michigan)
· Laredo (Texas) Independent School District
· Leicester (Vermont) Town School District
· Neshobe (Brandon, Vt.) Elementary School District
· Otter Valley (Brandon, Vt.) Union High School District
· Rutland (Brandon, Vt.) Northeast Supervisory Union
· Pittsford (Vermont) Town School District
· Sudbury (Vermont) Town School District
National Education Association
U.S. Department of Education
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