AUGUSTA (AP) – The federally mandated No Child Left Behind Act contradicts elements of Maine’s own school-reform law, a Democratic lawmaker said Tuesday as he sought to bar state funding to implement President Bush’s mandate.

Others following Sen. Michael Brennan bashed the federal law before the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, questioning its motivation and saying it intrudes into an area traditionally left to states and local governments.

The law “takes a fundamentally different approach to accountability” than Maine’s own school reform law, known as Learning Results, said state Education Commissioner Susan Gendron.

“It’s not good for children and public education,” Rob Walker, president of the 25,000-member Maine Education Association, told the committee. “Its one-size-fits-all approach does little to recognize the good work that goes on in Maine.”

Brennan’s election-year bill, besides barring state funding for No Child Left Behind, would require the state Education Department to add up the costs and benefits of not participating in the program.

The federal law calls for expanded testing and greater achievement among students, especially those in poor districts. Brennan’s bill to get around it surfaces months after No Child caused about 120 Maine schools to be listed as needing improvement.

While acknowledging that his bill is co-sponsored solidly by Democrats, Brennan denied any partisan intent. He said No Child received bipartisan support when it passed in 2001, but that Republicans have since joined Democrats in opposing it.

Brennan, D-Portland, said the No Child law relies more on standardized testing than Maine’s Learning Results. It also sanctions schools that fail to achieve standards, unlike the state law which avoids flagging them, he said.

The federal law “is going to cost, we think, far more than what we’re receiving in federal money” to implement it, Brennan said.

Jack McKee, a former state Board of Education member who lives in Kingfield, said the federal government has not been a good partner in implementing school reforms, an area historically left to states and local governments.

McKee also asserted that the federal law “was not built on the altruistic notions of leaving no child behind,” but rather as a way to destroy public education and usher in a national voucher system.

Opponents of Brennan’s bill took issue with that charge and said federal indicators show that Maine students’ performance, in SATs and math for example, has slipped.

“Poor kids aren’t doing that well in Maine … public schools,” said Frank Heller of the Maine School Choice Coalition and policy expert for the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Heller added that Maine officials knew in advance of obligating the state to the federal law what it entailed, and should not be trying to back away from it now.

“This would be a major insult to Maine’s poor children and parents, and an abandonment of decades-old commitments by the Democratic Party,” Heller wrote in an opinion piece in Tuesday’s Portland Press Herald.

A Republican member of the education panel, Rep. Thomas Murphy of Kennebunk, suggested it was hypocritical to criticize the federal law while local governments criticize the state for its Learning Results law.

Speaking neither for nor against Brennan’s bill, Peter Geiger of the Maine Coalition for Excellence in Education said Maine schools are unsure whether the federal No Child law or state Learning Results takes precedence.

Geiger’s group says Maine should continue to implement Learning Results and suggests major revisions to No Child to provide greater flexibility for states.

AP-ES-02-03-04 1730EST



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