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ESEA Wrangle

A power struggle has ensued in North Dakota as lawmakers and state education officials battle over who should have primary control of carrying out the federal "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001.

Sen. Dwight Cook, a Republican, is the lead sponsor of a bill that would create a 13-member "investigating" committee to oversee the implementation of the law, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Seven House members and six Senate members, appointed by the state's Legislative Council, would make up the committee.

The bill, which was introduced Feb. 12, would require the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction to hold public hearings before making any changes related to the No Child Left Behind Act. Committee members could make recommendations, but would not hold the power of final approval.

Under an original version of the bill, final approval from the committee would have been necessary to alter state education policy. But lawmakers determined that such a requirement would be unconstitutional, and the bill was amended.

Though education department officials say they are open to having public hearings on implementation of the federal law, they have expressed alarm over the proposed state bill, saying it portrays their agency in a bad light.

"I don't like the word 'investigation.' There's a feeling there that something untoward has taken place," said state Superintendent Wayne Sanstead. "That was an insult to me and my staff. I'm locked and loaded to do battle if the legislature stays with this kind of language."

If the bill is approved, the committee most likely will be formed by the end of April.

Lawmakers are proposing the bill mainly because they want to ensure no unneeded changes will be made under the mask of the No Child Left Behind Act, said Sen. Layton Freborg, another sponsor of the bill and the Republican chairman of the Senate education committee.

He added that the bill seeks to provide more opportunities for the public to learn about the new federal law. "In North Dakota, people ... don't understand [the No Child Left Behind Act], they don't like it," Mr. Freborg said. "When you're very rural, I think change comes hard."

—Hattie Brown

Vol. 22, Issue 24, Page 14

Published in Print: February 26, 2003, as State Journal

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