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Strings Attached

The Maine legislature has issued a bold request to President Bush and Congress: Give us the money, but not the federal mandates, from the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001.

"We respectfully ask Washington to leave us alone," state Sen. Margaret R. Rotundo, a Democrat and the lead Senate sponsor of the resolution adopted last month, said in an interview last week. "We don't want to be burdened by an unfunded mandate which doesn't help us."

The resolution—unanimously approved in the Maine House, but passed by the state Senate on a party-line vote of 17- 16—asks for a waiver of the federal law's requirements. The resolution focuses on accountability and testing demands, making the case that Maine already has strong standards and ranks high among states in student performance.

"No other state has formally asked to be exempt from the law," said Dan Langan, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education. "Just the opposite is happening. ... States are making great progress with accountability plans. ... While we would have to review any request, I can't say that it's likely that such a request would be granted."

That's putting it mildly.

Barring a waiver, the resolution says, Congress should fully fund the authorized levels in the law, especially for the Title I program. Mr. Langan's reaction? "There's more money than ever before to help implement the goals and requirements of this law."

Maine's legislature is not the first to voice concerns about the federal law. The Hawaii House—but not the Senate—in April approved a resolution urging state education officials to "decline any further participation in the [law] and to return all Title I program moneys conditioned on the implementation of the act."

Utah's legislature in March called for a study on "the fiscal impact of rejecting federal funds in return for being exempt from compliance with the 'No Child Left Behind' requirements." The New Hampshire House recently approved a bill that would ban spending of state or local funds to comply with the federal law.

All the noise may be more than mere posturing.

"Some states," said Scott C. Young, a policy associate at the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures, "are really looking at whether it's going to be cost-effective to implement a law like this."

—Erik W. Robelen

Vol. 22, Issue 40, Page 19

Published in Print: June 11, 2003, as Federal File

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