Dayton claims NCLB is immoral

Published June 1, 2005 1:44 am
In Washington: The Utahn took part in a Cato Institute panel discussion on No Child Left Behind
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WASHINGTON - After leading Utah's revolt against President Bush's No Child Left Behind education reform, Utah Rep. Margaret Dayton is challenging the underpinnings of the law, calling it unconstitutional and immoral.

Nina Rees, a senior official at the Department of Education, defended the law, citing surveys that show districts say they have seen improvements under the law.

“The fact that some organizations are threatening us with lawsuits is a healthy sign that the law is taking root,” said Rees, the assistant deputy education secretary for innovation and improvement.

Dayton has joined the vanguard in the movement to push back against No Child Left Behind. The Orem Republican has been widely quoted in newspapers and magazines across the country, decrying the failures in the law and demanding state and local governments be allowed to educate students as they see fit.

“Utah wants to take care of Utah's children,” Dayton said as part of a panel discussion at the Cato Institute, a conservative-leaning libertarian think tank.

Dayton authored House Bill 1001, which passed in Utah's recent special legislative session. It gives preference to Utah's education standards in cases where they come into conflict with federal regulations.

But Lawrence Uzzell, a former Education Department staffer who warns against giving the federal government control over education, said that the revolt by Utah and other states “is not going to make any fundamental difference.”

“As exhilarating as the Utah rebellion may seem, it really is essentially irrelevant to the decisions that will determine whether No Child Left Behind works or not,” he said. Those decisions have already been made and “guarantee that No Child Left Behind will fail.”

Uzzell says the law imposes new reforms and standards that the states don't want. As a result, many have found ways to skirt the law, forcing the Education Department to make a decision: Should it give the states broad leeway in implementing the law, which makes the law unnecessary, or should it impose heavy-handed reforms which he said would be ineffective?

Rees said the department is facing challenges in how to enforce the law - it has taken action against three states that have not met the requirements. It also needs to expand school choice and provide parents with more information on school performance.

Utah has applied for a half-dozen waivers from various parts of the law, including one that would allow progress among special education students to be measured individually, rather than testing them based on their grade level.

The state's waiver requests have been pending for months. Rees said discussions with the state are ongoing, but she can't say when a decision might be made, but it is important to remain patient.

Despite passage of HB1001, Rees said Utah remains compliant with the law. That could change if the state decides to abandon the No Child Left Behind testing requirements in favor of its own testing regimen, known as U-Pass.

At that point, the state could lose as much as $76 million in federal education funding. Dayton said education officials have put the figure at $116 million.

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