Federal

Suit Challenging NCLB Costs Is Dismissed

By Andrew Trotter — December 06, 2005 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The nation’s largest teachers’ union lost the first round in its high-profile legal challenge to the No Child Left Behind Act, as a federal judge in Michigan ruled that Congress may require states and school districts to spend their own money to comply with the school improvement law.

In a Nov. 23 decision that the National Education Association and the other plaintiffs plan to appeal, Chief Judge Bernard A. Friedman of the U.S. District Court in Detroit agreed with lawyers for Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who was the named defendant in the lawsuit, that the plaintiffs’ suit had failed to state a valid federal claim.

The suit hinges on a provision of the law that says “nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the federal government to … mandate a state or any subdivision thereof to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this act.”

According to the plaintiffs, the law’s testing and accountability requirements impose costs on states and school districts that greatly exceed the level of federal funding Congress has appropriated for those purposes. The suit maintained, for example, that “Illinois will spend $15.4 million per year to develop and administer required tests, whereas the federal government currently gives Illinois $13 million per year for this purpose, a $2.4 million annual shortfall.”

But the judge rejected the plaintiffs’ interpretation of the provision at issue. He accepted the government’s argument that the language restricts only “an officer or employee” of the federal government from imposing an unfunded mandate.

“This does not mean that Congress could not do so, which it obviously has done by passing the NCLB Act,” Judge Friedman said in his opinion dismissing the suit.

He continued: “Defendant also argues that it would make no sense for Congress to pass this elaborate statute—which does require many things of states and school districts as a condition of receiving federal education funds—if the states could avoid the requirements simply by claiming that they have to spend some of their own funds in order to comply with those requirements.”

In addition to the 2.7 million-member national union, the plaintiffs include the Illinois Education Association and state NEA affiliates in nine other states, some local affiliates, the school districts of Pontiac, Mich., and Laredo, Texas, and several districts in south-central Vermont.

The NEA-led suit, filed in April, is separate from a suit that the state of Connecticut filed against the law in August. (“Connecticut Files Court Challenge to NCLB,” Aug. 31, 2005.)

Connecticut Suit Pending

On a separate issue, Judge Friedman rejected the federal government’s argument that the teachers’ union and school district plaintiffs lacked legal standing to bring the case, Pontiac v. Spellings.

The judge said that at this early stage in the legal proceeding, all that was required was that the plaintiffs allege facts in support of their standing. “The court is persuaded that standing has been adequately alleged,” Judge Friedman wrote. But that was little more than a symbolic victory for the plaintiffs, since he went on to dismiss the suit on other grounds.

Secretary Spellings said in a statement that “Chief Judge Friedman’s decision validates our partnership with states to close the achievement gap, hold schools accountable, and to ensure all students are reading and doing math at grade level by 2014.”

NEA President Reg Weaver said the union found troubling the judge’s reasoning that it is proper for the federal government to pass unfunded mandates. “We consider that interpretation wrong,” he said.

The lawsuit that Connecticut’s attorney general filed in federal district court in Hartford this past summer makes a similar challenge based on the same provision of the nearly 4-year-old federal law, as well as on a claim that the alleged unfunded mandates are a violation of the spending clause in Article I of the U.S. Constitution.

Responding to the ruling in the NEA suit, state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said in a statement that it was “wrong and in no way legally binding on our lawsuit in Connecticut.”

He criticized the judge’s opinion as having reasoning that was “virtually incomprehensible and completely unsupported.”

He said Connecticut’s claim is “that federal officials illegally imposed unfunded mandates by failing to grant waivers or flexibility in their regulatory requirements, making our case factually different” from the NEA’s. The Education Department had until Dec. 2 to file its response to Connecticut’s suit.

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
Classroom Technology Webinar
How to Leverage Virtual Learning: Preparing Students for the Future
Hear from an expert panel how best to leverage virtual learning in your district to achieve your goals.
Content provided by Class
English-Language Learners Webinar AI and English Learners: What Teachers Need to Know
Explore the role of AI in multilingual education and its potential limitations.
Education Webinar The K-12 Leader: Data and Insights Every Marketer Needs to Know
Which topics are capturing the attention of district and school leaders? Discover how to align your content with the topics your target audience cares about most. 

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 Biden Credits School Shooting Survivors as He Creates Gun Violence Prevention Office
President Biden announced the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, fulfilling a long-time goal of school shooting survivors.
5 min read
President Joe Biden speaks about gun safety on Sept. 22, 2023, from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., applauds at left.
President Joe Biden speaks about gun safety on Sept. 22, 2023, from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., applauds at left.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Federal A Flood of Public Feedback Has Delayed a Title IX Change Covering Trans Athletes—Again
The Biden administration has not taken the final step to adopt long-awaited Title IX changes that would explicitly protect LGBTQ+ students.
5 min read
Isaya S. waves out the window of a Seattle Public Schools bus while participating in the annual Seattle Pride Parade on June 25, 2023, in Seattle.
Isaya S. waves out the window of a Seattle Public Schools bus while participating in the annual Seattle Pride Parade on June 25, 2023, in Seattle.
Lindsey Wasson/AP
Federal Is Funding for School Archery and Hunting Programs Really at Risk?
A U.S. Department of Education document led to confusion among school administrators about funding for archery and hunting programs.
4 min read
Students participate in a school archery program. A group of congressional lawmakers are working to amend federal law to ensure schools can purchase bow and arrows and other supplies for archery, sharp shooting, and hunting programs in schools.
Students participate in a school archery program. A group of congressional lawmakers are working to amend federal law to ensure schools can purchase bow and arrows and other supplies for school archery, sharp shooting, and hunting programs with federal education funds.
Courtesy of the National Archery in the Schools Program
Federal A Senate Committee Takes Up School Book Wars, Complete With Sharp Partisan Divisions
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "book bans" included one Republican senator reading sexually explicit passages.
4 min read
Alexi Giannoulias, Illinois secretary of state, talks with Chairman Richard Durbin, D-Ill., right, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled "Book Bans: Examining How Censorship Limits Liberty and Literature," in Hart Building on Tuesday, September 12, 2023.
Alexi Giannoulias, Illinois secretary of state, talks with Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., right, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled "Book Bans: Examining How Censorship Limits Liberty and Literature," on Sept. 12, 2023.
Tom Williams/AP