Law & Courts

Connecticut Pledges First State Legal Challenge to NCLB Law

By Jeff Archer — April 12, 2005 4 min read

The backlash against the No Child Left Behind Act was raised to a new level last week when Connecticut’s attorney general announced that his state plans to sue the U.S. Department of Education over the testing mandates in the sweeping federal law.

In announcing his intentions, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he was inviting other states to join the legal challenge, which he said would argue that the law violates federal statute by forcing states to use their own money to carry out its testing requirements.

“I’m not making a judgment about educational policy, whether testing is a good thing or a bad thing,” he said in an interview last week. “The point is that the federal government is mandating it, and it’s doing so without funding it.”

The legal threat is one of the boldest in a growing number of challenges to the Bush administration’s hallmark education law. Last month, Utah lawmakers took up—and then delayed—a bill to have the state’s education requirements take precedence over those in the federal law. (“Utah Legislators Delay Action on NCLB Bill,” March 9, 2005.)

In addition, a handful of local districts have filed their own lawsuits challenging the No Child Left Behind Act, a 3-year-old revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The National Education Association has been encouraging states to take legal action against the law, but so far none has.

Jack Jennings, the president of the Washington-based Center on Education Policy, said a lawsuit by Connecticut would mark a significant escalation in the national debate over the law’s mandates.

“This is the first time that you have a state filing suit against the federal [law], and that’s a serious matter,” he said. “It’s not just a disgruntled school district, or a few parents. It’s the state of Connecticut saying that the federal government overstepped its bounds.”

Request Denied

The move to file a lawsuit follows a March report by the Connecticut Department of Education that claims the state would have to spend $8 million of its own money by 2008 to carry out the testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. The law mandates annual testing in reading and mathematics in grades 3-8, and once during high school. Connecticut assesses student performance in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10.

Mr. Blumenthal said that requiring a state to shoulder such a financial burden goes against a provision in the No Child Left Behind law that says federal officials cannot “mandate a state … to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this act.” A similar argument was made last spring by Wisconsin’s attorney general in a written analysis of the federal law. (“Wis. Review Invites ‘No Child’ Lawsuit,” May 26, 2004.)

“As we thought about the potential claims, and provisions in the statute, what became crystal clear was that Congress sought to prevent exactly this kind of practice,” Mr. Blumenthal said.

In February, the U.S. Department of Education denied a request by Connecticut officials for a waiver to allow the state to continue with its current testing regime. In a letter explaining her decision, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said that testing in more grades was needed to better identify students’ needs.

Betty J. Sternberg, the Connecticut commissioner of education, said last week that the money for additional state assessments would be better spent on other improvement strategies, such as preschool programs. Also last week, she released a second analysis contending that, along with the added state costs, local districts would have to spend millions to meet the demands of the federal law.

“The real question is, will doing more statewide accountability testing really address the achievement-gap issue?” Ms. Sternberg said in an interview. “Or are there proven programs that we know we should provide to make the gap smaller?”

Although Secretary Spellings announced new flexibility in meeting the demands of the No Child Left Behind Act last week, she made clear that the requirement to test students in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school would continue. (“States to Get New Options on NCLB Law.” this issue.)

Achievement Gap Cited

Officials with the federal Education Department said the state’s intention to begin legal action was “disappointing.”

Agency spokeswoman DJ Nordquist said in a statement that Connecticut’s estimates of the costs of the No Child Left Behind law were “flawed,” and that Connecticut’s students “are suffering from one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation.”

“Instead of addressing the issue at hand, the state has chosen to attack a law that is designed to assist the students most in need,” she said, adding that Connecticut has received more than $750 million in federal funding under the legislation since President Bush signed it into law in January 2002.

Ross Wiener, a principal partner at the Washington-based Education Trust, agreed that the additional testing called for in the NCLB law would help the state better pinpoint its weaknesses. He noted that while Connecticut students overall are among the top-performing in the country, the state’s minority students and those living in poverty score far below the state averages.

“Poor students and students of color are underperforming in Connecticut public schools,” said Mr. Wiener, whose research and advocacy group supports the No Child Left Behind Act. “And the leadership there needs to respond to those performance issues in more constructive ways.”

Asked when he planned to file the lawsuit, Attorney General Blumenthal said April 6 that the filing was “imminent.” The main consideration, he added, is how long to wait to allow other parties to join. “We have tried every other avenue of relief,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “We are left with no recourse except for the courts.”

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Safe Return to Schools is Possible with Testing
We are edging closer to a nationwide return to in-person learning in the fall. However, vaccinations alone will not get us through this. Young children not being able to vaccinate, the spread of new and
Content provided by BD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
Meeting the Moment: Accelerating Equitable Recovery and Transformative Change
Educators are deciding how best to re-establish routines such as everyday attendance, rebuild the relationships for resilient school communities, and center teaching and learning to consciously prioritize protecting the health and overall well-being of students
Content provided by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Addressing Learning Loss: What Schools Need to Accelerate Reading Instruction in K-3
When K-3 students return to classrooms this fall, there will be huge gaps in foundational reading skills. Does your school or district need a plan to address learning loss and accelerate student growth? In this
Content provided by PDX Reading

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts 'I Just Want to Play.' Judge Halts W. Va. Law Barring Transgender Girls From Girls' Sports
Ruling for an 11-year-old transgender girl, the judge holds that the law likely violates the equal-protection clause and Title IX.
3 min read
Image of a gavel.
Marilyn Nieves/E+
Law & Courts Praying Coach v. District That Suspended Him: What's Next in Fight Over Religious Expression
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit declined to reconsider an earlier panel ruling that sided with the school district.
4 min read
Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy, center in blue, kneels and prays after his team lost to Centralia in Bremerton, Wash., on Oct. 16, 2015. Kennedy, who was suspended for praying at midfield after games, has filed a discrimination complaint on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission according to The Liberty Institute, a Texas-based law firm representing the coach.
Joe Kennedy, center in blue, kneels and prays after a game in October 2015 when he was the assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash. In a long-running legal fight, Kennedy contends he has First Amendment free-speech and free-exercise-of-religion rights to express his Christian faith while on the job. The case is likely headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Lindsey Wasso/The Seattle Times via AP
Law & Courts Appeals Court Again Backs Transgender Student, But on Narrower Grounds Amid Signs of Rift
A federal appeals panel removed a holding for student Drew Adams based on Title IX, perhaps to ward off a rehearing by the full court.
4 min read
Image of a gavel.
Marilyn Nieves/E+
Law & Courts Schools Will Get At Least $25 Million From Opioid Lawsuit
Lawyers are aiming to place significantly more money into the grant program as school districts' lawsuits against opioid companies continue.
3 min read
This June 17, 2019, photo shows 5-mg pills of Oxycodone.
This June 17, 2019, photo shows 5-mg pills of Oxycodone.
Keith Srakocic/AP