The war in Iraq may have dominated public discussion leading up to last week’s midterm congressional elections, but debate over the No Child Left Behind Act was one of the most prominent domestic issues in three hotly contested House races in Connecticut, which is suing the federal government over funding for the law.
In a closely watched House race that focused on the education law more than most such contests did, incumbent Rep. Christopher Shays, a Republican, beat Diane Farrell, a Democrat, by 3 percentage points in Connecticut’s 4th district.
Ms. Farrell, a former town selectwoman in Westport, had repeatedly called the law “too punitive,” although she stopped short of advocating its repeal. Mr. Shays—part of the big, bipartisan coalition that passed the measure five years ago—continued to express his support, with qualifications. He said he would favor more flexibility for states in assessing English-language learners and special education students during the law’s reauthorization next year.
Mr. Shays’ race was profiled by Education Week last month as one of three House contests in the state where Democratic challengers questioned their opponents’ support of the law. (“No Child Left Behind on the Campaign Trail,” Oct. 25, 2006.)
Mary Loftus Levine, the political-action coordinator for the Connecticut Education Association, which endorsed and lent grassroots support to Ms. Farrell, said that even though many Connecticut voters are unsatisfied with the No Child Left Behind law, it did not appear to figure into their decisions at the ballot box. The CEA is an affiliate of the 3.2 million-member National Education Association, which has been critical of the law and led a separate lawsuit challenging it.
“I think everybody has problems with it,” Ms. Levine said. “I don’t understand why people don’t make the connection between who you’re voting for and the law.”
But she said that NCLB was overshadowed by national security, and that some parents may not have “the time and resources to delve into such a complicated” law.
In the House race in Connecticut’s 5th district, former state Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat, unseated Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, a Republican who supported the NCLB law, by 12 percentage points. Mr. Murphy had called the law “a crippling, unfunded mandate.” Ms. Levine said the CEA took no position in that race.
The Connecticut attorney general filed a lawsuit over the law last year, arguing that the federal government should increase its funding to a level that the state contends would be adequate to meet the law’s mandates. In September, a federal judge threw out three of the suit’s four claims on procedural grounds, but allowed one claim to move forward. (“3 of 4 Claims in Conn.’s NCLB Suit Dismissed,” Oct. 4, 2006.)
Recount in One Race
The No Child Left Behind law also came up this fall in the race between Rep. Rob Simmons, a Republican, and Joe Courtney, a Democrat and former state representative, for the 2nd district seat.
Mr. Courtney chided Rep. Simmons for being part of a GOP majority that Democrats say has underfunded the law, and for failing to support the state’s suit. Rep. Simmons contended the state should have negotiated a better accountability deal with the federal government before taking legal action.
With a lead of 166 votes as of Nov. 10, Mr. Courtney declared victory. But the close margin triggered a recount that was being conducted late last week.
A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 2006 edition of Education Week as GOP Sees Mixed Results in Connecticut