By Michael Dobbs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 24, 2005
A bipartisan group representing 50 state legislatures yesterday called for major changes in President Bush's landmark education initiative, which it lambasted as unconstitutional and impractical.
The 77-page report from the National Conference on State Legislatures reflected widespread local unhappiness with the No Child Left Behind law, which sets out federal requirements designed to ensure that every student is proficient in reading and math by 2014. It said states should be given much greater latitude in interpreting the law and opting out of provisions that undermine local initiatives.
Republican state Sen. Steve Saland of New York, who co-chaired a task force that took 10 months to review implementation of No Child Left Behind, said the law imposes an impractical "one size fits all" education accountability system across the country that stifles local initiatives.
The report complained that the federal government provides less than 8 percent of the nation's education funds and seeks to impose an unworkable accountability system in return. The task force said that the federal government's role has become "excessively intrusive" in an area in which states have traditionally been permitted to take the initiative.
The report contends the law leads to lower academic standards, increased segregation, and the driving away of top teachers from needy schools. It alleges the government is violating the Constitution by coercing state compliance.
Over the past two years, more than a dozen state legislatures have adopted resolutions criticizing the No Child Left Behind law and demanding changes. But the bipartisan nature of yesterday's report, and the fact that it was issued by a group that represents legislatures in all 50 states, marked an escalation in the war of words surrounding the law.
In the administration's defense, Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Education Committee, said critics "want the funding No Child Left Behind is providing, but they don't want to meet the high standards that come with it."