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


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


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
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
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
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
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
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

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 Pandemic Tests Limits of Cardona's Collaborative Approach as Education Secretary
He's sought the image of a veteran educator among former peers, but COVID has forced him to take a tough stance toward some state leaders.
10 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter speak to Mia Arias, 10, during their visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter speak to Mia Arias, 10, during a visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, last month.
Brittainy Newman/AP
Federal White House Launches Hispanic Education Initiative Led by Miguel Cardona
President Joe Biden said his administration intends to address the "systemic causes" of educational disparities faced by Hispanic students.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona writes down and draws positive affirmations on poster board with students during his visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits students in New York City at P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school in the Bronx last month.
Brittainy Newman/AP
Federal Feds Add Florida to List of States Under Investigation Over Restrictions on Mask Mandates
The Education Department told the state Sept. 10 it will probe whether its mask rule is violating the rights of students with disabilities.
3 min read
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Federal How Biden Will Mandate Teacher Vaccines, Testing in Some States That Don't Require Them
President Joe Biden's COVID-19 plan will create new teacher vaccination and testing requirements in some states through worker safety rules.
4 min read
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site setup for teachers and school staff at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., on March 15, 2021.
Nurse Sara Muela administers a COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site for at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa.
Matt Rourke/AP