Feds look at Utah's 'No Child' concerns

Published October 26, 2005 1:00 am
An open mind: The U.S. education chief agrees to reconsider leniency for some provisions
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WASHINGTON - Utah education chief Patti Harrington pressed the nation's education secretary on Tuesday to give more leniency to the Beehive State in complying with the No Child Left Behind Act, a request Harrington said was well received.

Utah officials have battled with the federal government's sweeping education rules since they passed in 2002, and the state was the first to order school districts to ignore provisions of the federal law that conflict with state programs.

Tuesday, after a meeting in Washington, Harrington said Education Secretary Margaret Spellings agreed to go back over some requests Utah has made to get waivers from the Bush administration rules.

“She indicated very much that some of them are worth reconsidering,” said Harrington, Utah's superintendent of public instruction.

Three of Utah's six main requests for waivers have been denied in years past.

Spellings' spokeswoman, Susan Aspey, said in a statement that the meeting was productive.

“The secretary committed to doing everything she can to help Utah education officials,” Aspey said, adding that Spellings praised the state for being one of the first to adapt programs to ensure accountability for results in annual assessments.

Tuesday's sit down could be termed a new approach between Utah and the federal government, who have so far been antagonistic in dealing with the education law. After the Utah Legislature told school districts earlier this year to prioritize the state's programs above the mandated ones, the Education Department threatened to withhold federal funding.

Harrington said she felt after Tuesday's private meeting - which included Utah Republicans, Sen. Bob Bennett and Rep. Rob Bishop - that the two sides “finally had a relationship built that might help us in the future to continue the dialogue.”

Spellings asked Deputy Secretary Raymond Simon to work with Utah, a step forward, Harrington said, in keeping the lines of communication open. “We've had our anger riled in Utah and some of that anger came from lack of communication.”

Specifically, Harrington and Spellings talked about Utah's request to change how it handles students who fail to meet the federal standards. Harrington says the state wants to be able to provide another educator or a tutor to the student as soon as possible, while the federal law calls for that help to come after the student has failed three times.

The two also discussed the growth of Utah schools and how that affects the state's ability to meet federal standards. One thing the two didn't talk about, though, was Utah officials' concerns with the federal government usurping rights reserved for the states.

Still, Harrington said, “I felt personally that [Spellings] was very much listening and hearing.”


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