Va. Sees Shortfall In Federal Aid for 'No Child' Law
U.S. Education Official Challenges Methodology of State-Run Study

By Rosalind S. Helderman and Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 22, 2005

RICHMOND, Sept. 21 -- Virginia school districts and the state have spent more than $61 million in the past year to cover the costs of the No Child Left Behind law because the federal government has failed to fully fund the Bush administration mandate, a study released Wednesday found.

The study examined costs associated with the federal law at the state and local levels, including those incurred developing standardized tests, tracking scores of thousands of students, finding and keeping qualified teachers and imposing sanctions on schools that do not measure up.

It found that the Virginia Department of Education and school divisions together spent an estimated $264 million on the law last year. That's 23 percent more than they say they received in new federal dollars meant to cover the law's costs. At the local level, the study found that school divisions spent $207 per student. But because of the federal funding shortfall, districts picked up $52.80 per student.

Virginia's study was conducted by state officials and a Denver consulting firm, based on a method developed jointly by 12 states. New Mexico, Connecticut and Hawaii each have released estimates of state spending using the same process, but Virginia's study is the first to look so broadly at state and local costs and compare them to federal funding. Neither Maryland nor the District has done anything similar.

The report, presented to the state Board of Education, was conducted at the request of the General Assembly. It likely will figure prominently in discussions about whether Virginia should halt its participation in the program altogether when the legislature convenes in January. Doing so would put all of the state's federal education funding at risk.

Board of Education members, who have long argued the federal law is intrusive to the state's own efforts to improve student achievement using Standards of Learning tests, nevertheless said they had expected the numbers to be worse.

"I didn't see numbers today that made me feel like we need to pull out," said Board of Education President Thomas M. Jackson Jr. "I would probably guess that the federal government has not fully fulfilled its funding obligations in any of its programs, so this is probably not an isolated instance. That doesn't make it right, but it's also not shocking."

State Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta), who sponsored the bill requiring the study, said that it showed local governments are paying "significantly" more than they get from the federal government. Hanger said he now believes the state should withdraw from the federal program.

Hanger called No Child Left Behind a "liberal program" because of its expansion of federal power over education.

"There are certain things that are required by the program that add nothing whatsoever to educational quality," he said. "The federal government doesn't have the constitutional authority to tell the states what they must do in education. It's a state responsibility, primarily funded by the state."

The federal law calls for annual testing of students in grades three through eight and requires that schools show yearly progress in improving scores or face consequences. Subgroups of students -- including ethnic minorities, disabled students and students with limited English skills -- also must make progress each year, and all students must pass math and reading tests by 2014.

Chad Colby, a spokesman for the federal Education Department, challenged the study's methodology. Colby said school system officials inflated their costs by including preexisting expenses. He said state officials did a better job than school district administrators at including only costs related to the law. The report showed the state agency received a little more from the federal government than it spent.

"Obviously, we've funded No Child Left Behind adequately," he said. "Their models don't seem to work out right."

School officials also quibbled with the study, saying it underestimates costs because it does not include all the efforts underway to help students pass the tests. Fairfax Superintendent Jack D. Dale said costs will rise dramatically as the 2014 deadline approaches.

"If the federal government wants to make the statement they have fully funded No Child Left Behind they would have to send us a check," he said.

Glod reported from Washington.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company