Federal

NEA Eyes Congress as High Court Refuses NCLB Case

By Alyson Klein — June 15, 2010 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Fresh from a snub by the U.S. Supreme Court, the National Education Association is turning to Congress to address its concerns that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—in the form of the 8-year-old No Child Left Behind Act—is an unfunded mandate.

Alice O’Brien, the general counsel for the 3.2 million-member NEA, said the high court’s June 7 refusal to consider a challenge by the nation’s largest teachers’ union and nine school districts to the NCLB law is the “end of the line” for the lawsuit, but not for the argument that the law places an undue financial burden on states.

“Our schools are now in a terrible economic crisis,” said Ms. O’Brien. Class sizes are ballooning and “we have curriculums that are being slashed,” she said. “To have federal mandates that are unfunded being placed on top of that really results in terrible policy choices.”

In considering the reauthorization of the ESEA, of which No Child Left Behind is the current version, lawmakers “need to think through that issue very clearly, and NEA will encourage them to do so,” Ms. O’Brien said.

The justices issued no comment in declining the appeal in School District of the City of Pontiac v. Duncan (Case No. 09-852).

Appeals Court Deadlocked

The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, deadlocked 8-8 over the case last October. That affirmed a 2005 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan that dismissed the case.

But seven of the appeals court judges signed on to opinions accepting the union’s view about the law’s “unfunded mandates” language.

In its appeal, the NEA urged the justices to consider whether a provision in NCLB against requiring states or school districts “to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this act” meant that the U.S. secretary of education could not force them to spend their own money to comply with the law’s requirements.

The NEA and its fellow plaintiffs, which included school districts in Michigan, Texas, and Vermont, and a number of NEA affiliates, challenged the legislation during the administration of President George W. Bush, who had championed the bipartisan measure and signed it into law. The law was slated to be reauthorized in 2007.

“There is no really recourse; we have to accept it,” Dennis Pollard, a lawyer for the 6,700-student Pontiac, Mich., school district, the lead plaintiff in the case, said of the rebuff by the high court.

The law has “been underfunded right from the get-go,” he said, “and unless the heavens part, schools will end up spending their own resources, which are scarce as can be, to meet the requirements of NCLB.”

Ms. O’Brien, who has worked on the Pontiac case since it was filed in 2005, when she was with Bredhoff and Kaiser, a Washington law firm that helped the NEA with the litigation, said the lawsuit went farther than many had predicted.

“A lot of people dismissed it out of hand,” she said, but added that the trajectory of the Pontiac case shows that the arguments were able to gain support. “The unfunded mandate [issue] will remain alive and will continue to have a lot of traction.”

The debate now moves to Congress, which is likely to weigh such issues as state-federal relations in considering the renewal of the ESEA, said Martha Derthink, a retired professor of government at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, who has written about court challenges to NCLB, including the Pontiac case.

Other developments, such as the Obama administration’s $4 billion Race to the Top competition, may have shifted the argument on the ESEA’s treatment of the state-federal role in education, said Ms. Derthink, who also co-writes a column on legal issues for the journal Education Next.

The administration, which earlier this year unveiled a blueprint for renewing the ESEA, has indicated it doesn’t agree with the union’s arguments.

In a brief filed in May by U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan on behalf of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Ms. Kagan urged the justices not to hear the appeal. She argued that the NCLB law lets districts target federal money toward state and local priorities.

“The act moves from a dollars-and-cents approach to education policy to a results-based approach that allows local schools to use substantial additional federal dollars as they see fit in tackling local educational challenges in return for meeting improved benchmarks,” Ms. Kagan wrote in the brief.

Ms. Kagan, who has been nominated to succeed retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, has since stepped aside from the solicitor general’s post.

Contributing Writer Mark Walsh provided material for this story.
A version of this article appeared in the June 16, 2010 edition of Education Week as Focus Turns to Congress After High Court’s Denial of Challenge to NCLB Law

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
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls
Science K-12 Essentials Forum How To Teach STEM Problem Solving Skills to All K-12 Students
Join experts for a look at how experts are integrating the teaching of problem solving and entrepreneurial thinking into STEM instruction.
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
School & District Management Webinar
Modernizing Principal Support: The Road to More Connected and Effective Leaders
When principals are better equipped to lead, support, and maintain high levels of teaching and learning, outcomes for students are improved.
Content provided by BetterLesson

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

Federal Opinion What If We Treated Public Education Like the Crisis It Is?
A former governor warns that without an overhaul, education's failures will cost the nation dearly.
Bev Perdue
5 min read
Conceptual Illustration of the sun rising behind a broken down school building
iStock/Getty
Federal What the Research Says Education Research Has Changed Under COVID. Here's How the Feds Can Catch Up
Adam Gamoran, chairman of a National Academies panel on the future of education research, talks about the shift that's needed.
5 min read
Graphic shows iconic data images all connected.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Federal 7 Takeaways for Educators From Biden's State of the Union
What did President Joe Biden say about education in his first State of the Union address to Congress? Here's a point-by-point summary.
3 min read
President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Washington as Vice President Kamala Harris applauds and House speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., looks on.
President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in attendance.
Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times via AP
Federal Biden Sounds Alarm on Youth Mental Health, Urges Americans to Aid Schools' COVID Recovery
The president's State of the Union speech called on Americans to volunteer in schools and proposed new funding for mental health efforts.
5 min read
President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Washington, as Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., look on.
President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday, with Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., behind him.
Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times via AP