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Another look at the No Child Left Behind Act

By Robert S. Sargent, Jr.
web posted March 21, 2005

Last Tuesday (3/15), according to last Friday's Washington Times (3/18/05), "Education Secretary Margaret Spellings had an unannounced private parley…with Republican Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to block moves by the state's Republican-controlled legislature to reject the federal No Child Left Behind Act." It seems, "The administration is working to prevent the potential embarrassment of Republican-dominated Utah becoming the first state to reject federal control of education under NCLB…" Who's behind this rogue state standing up to Uncle Sam?

Two weeks ago in my "No Child Left Behind Act: An Intrusion on State's Rights?" I mentioned Utah's Representative Margaret Dayton, and her bill that confronts the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). In HB135, Rep. Dayton gives the state's education statutes priority over the federal NCLB. HB135 recognizes that if it doesn't comply with the feds it may lose funding. Under 53A-3-402, paragraph 10 (b), it directs that "Federal funds are not considered funds within the school district budget…" Why? Because, as the "State Impact" says, "Bill provisions require education officials to prioritize resources to first meet state goals as they relate to federal programs. It is unknown to what extent such prioritization may have on federal funds received by the state." In other words, we are putting the state ahead of the feds, and one result may be that the feds will withhold some or all funds. So be it! In that case, we'll opt out.

Representative Dayton agreed to answer some questions by email. She got into politics at a time when "women's issues" were very prominent, except that those women who were "claiming to speak for the women of the world…were not speaking for me – nor for the women I knew. I realized the need for more women to step forward and speak for families and traditional values." When I asked how she got involved with the NCLB, she wrote, "I am the chair of the education committee in the Utah House – and when our state started struggling with the costs and challenges of implementing NCLB, I realized that we would be better off without it! I also realized it was an unconstitutional encroachment into a traditional states rights issue." She elaborated: "Utah was required to have a plan for educating its citizens in its proposed state constitution when it applied for statehood. The United States Constitution does not enumerate or delegate powers over education to the feds – and the Founding Fathers put the states rights issue in cement in the 10th Amendment just in case it was not already clear."

I asked Rep. Dayton if this was a bi-partisan issue. "Local control of schools is not just a Republican issue. The unions on the Democratic side don't want to lose their power, and they have serious concerns about lack of adequate funding. The Republican side has serious concerns about elected school boards being reduced to clerical duties only, lack of parental input, and the impossible one-size-fits-all approach from D.C. Both sides resent the intrusion, the inability of our state to accommodate the costs of implementation, and the loss of input from the legislature as well. The NCLB pleases no one. Gaining bi-partisan support was not difficult – and that is amazing as there has never been such a major education issue since Utah became a state – heretofore there had never been an educational issue that didn't cause sharp divisions!" How bi-partisan was it? "It has received unanimous approval already in the House Education Committee, in the full House, in the Senate Ed. Committee, and in a preliminary vote in the full Senate."

All of this has the Dept. of Education in a panic. If Utah opts out, what will happen with other states? Rep. Dayton: "Utah is speaking up – and voicing the concerns that all states have…Over a dozen states have been in touch with me for the last two years," and "other states besides these have been in touch with our state office." "It seems to be in the best interest of DOE to silence Utah," which explains the recent "parley" between Spellings and Gov. Huntsman, Jr.

The Governor has promised a special session in April after he tries to negotiate with Secy. Spellings. It is interesting that Rep. Dayton didn't qualify her next statement on what happens between the governor and the secretary. She wrote, "If the Governor follows through on his pledge to call a special session, then HB135 will pass." If HB135 passes, will the feds blink? Other states are watching, and some will inevitably follow Utah's actions.

If Utah opts out of NCLB, and other states follow its lead, this could lead to a Constitutional confrontation of immense importance with not only education, but the whole idea of federal mandates being debated on a national level. When a state Representative says, "The Founding Fathers put the states rights issue in cement in the 10th Amendment," we constitutional conservatives, paraphrasing the Bard, say, "Would t'were more Daytons in the world!"

Robert S. Sargent, Jr. is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right and can be reached at rssjr@citcom.net.


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