When the Minnesota legislature reconvenes next month, state senators will debate whether the state should refuse to follow mandates under the No Child Left Behind Act—potentially forfeiting up to $250 million in annual federal funding.
“I believe in local control of schools,” said Sen. Geoff Michel, who represents Senate Republicans on the issue. He said the NCLB law “has grown the federal role in schools, in education, and in teaching, and I think that’s dangerous.”
Breaking with NCLB is an option the legislature has considered in the past, but never actually done. Sen. Michel believes the initiative could gain support this time because “there’s more interest now, [and] there’s more frustration now.” The issue is also timely, he said, since the 6-year-old law is up for reauthorization by Congress.
Supporters of such a move could be heartened by a decision last week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit that revived a federal lawsuit in which school districts in three states—not including Minnesota—are challenging obligations for spending under the law. (“Court Ruling in NCLB Suit Fuels Fight Over Costs,” Jan. 16, 2008.)
Although the latest push in Minnesota is spearheaded by Senate Republicans—it remains to be seen if any in the House of Representatives will sign on as well—Sen. Michel believes it has bipartisan support in his chamber.
But Sen. Charles W. Wiger, a Democrat and the chairman of the Senate education committee, said his stance on the bill is that “Congress should mend it, not end it.” He is especially concerned about the prospect of forfeiting federal aid.
“At a time when school budgets are stretched to the limit, … we can’t afford that loss of funding,” he said.
In Sen. Michel’s view, however, even if the state were to lose federal aid, it might be better off if it does not have to comply with the law’s requirements, which include annual testing and other accountability provisions.
“I think it’s also a really strong statement from us that we’d rather have the discretion and flexibility than the money,” said Sen. Michel. “We’re not going to be held hostage by the federal government any longer when it comes to educating our kids.”
A version of this article appeared in the January 16, 2008 edition of Education Week