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An NCLB Showdown in Montana?

By Michele McNeil — July 05, 2011 1 min read

On April 25, Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau informed the U.S. Department of Education that she planned to freeze annual proficiency targets at current levels, rather than march on toward that goal of getting 100 percent of students proficient in math and language arts.

More than two months later, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote her back.

In a letter dated July 1, Duncan told her that Montana is out of compliance with No Child Left Behind, and he urged her to reconsider her decision. He said the department has “no alternative but to pursue enforcement action.” And that “may include the withholding” of its Title I funds.

In an interview today, Juneau told me her staff would review the letter, but that she currently has no plans to reverse course. She also said she planned on having further conversations with the department to see what exactly the enforcement actions might entail.

She told me she would not jeopardize millions in Title I money, which she said schools desperately need. Whether the department can pursue other enforcement action, besides withholding money, is unclear. I’m waiting for an answer from the department on that one.

Juneau told me she’s interested in whatever waiver package Duncan ultimately comes up with as states await congressional action to rewrite the federal accountability law. But if Duncan’s “plan B” would entail creating charter schools (Montana has no plans to do so) or state takeover of failing schools (not currently authorized under Montana law) then it’s unlikely her state would be able to seek those waivers. She pointed out that the state legislature doesn’t even return until January 2013.

Montana may not be the only state entering into a standoff with the department. Idaho and South Dakota have also informed the department that they plan to defy parts of NCLB.

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