Education law

rankles state

LEWISTON – Maine may soon become the first state to demand that the federal government either pay for the No Child Left Behind Act or waive the law completely.

A joint resolution, proposed by State Rep. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, and co-sponsored by more than half of the House and Senate, asks President George W. Bush and Congress to fully fund the mammoth 2-year-old education reform act.

If Congress doesn’t set aside full funding, the resolution asks for a special waiver from all of the law’s requirements.

“We are respectfully asking the federal government to leave us alone,” said Democratic State Sen. Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston.

Signed by President Bush in January 2001, the 1,100-page No Child Left Behind Act uses standards, testing and accountability to make some of the most sweeping education reforms seen in decades.

Because there is no federal standard, schools are judged successful or not based on students’ performance on state tests measuring state standards under the reform act.

Schools whose students don’t make adequate yearly progress are deemed failures. They are required to pay for tutoring, to bus students to another public school and to face penalties.

Even successful schools must comply with myriad requirements, such as hiring liaisons to work with homeless students and hiring teaching assistants who have completed two years of college.

Not needed here

Many in Maine have praised the law for forcing states to create standards. But they believe No Child Left Behind was written to improve large, urban school systems and only hurts Maine’s small, rural schools.

Since Maine students routinely score at the top of national tests and since the state is already implementing its own standards, called the Maine Learning Results, lawmakers believe the state should get a special waiver from all of No Child Left Behind’s requirements.

“This legislation is irrelevant to our state,” Rotundo said.

And given this time of economic hardship, they say the state and its school systems can’t afford to pay for the law’s burdensome, sometimes damaging requirements without more federal help.

“I think the No Child Left Behind Act is quickly becoming the Leave Every District Behind Act in Maine,” said State Rep. Glenn Cummings, a Portland Democrat and co-chairman of the Education Committee.

The House is expected to vote on the proposed resolution Thursday.

Although 12 states have urged additional funding and a handful of states are considering backing out of No Child Left Behind – and forgoing the federal funding that comes with it – Maine would be the first to ask for a complete pass from the law’s requirements.

All of Maine’s congressional delegates said Wednesday that they supported greater funding of the act.

Democratic Rep. Michael Michaud said that if funding wasn’t forthcoming, he would consider sponsoring a bill that released Maine from its obligations.

“I definitely will be looking at the waiver aspect,” he said.

Dan Langan, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, said his department isn’t sure how it would handle passage of a joint resolution from Maine.

But he said 24 states are well on their way to meeting No Child Left Behind’s requirements and he sees no reason why Maine can’t, too.

Said Langan, “We believe that all states can get it done.”

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