Paige Parses Words While States and Schools Struggle

The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) recently released a report, “Unfunded Mandates: Analysis of Reform Act Coverage,” finding that the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is not, technically, an “unfunded mandate.” U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige took the opportunity to divert attention from the struggle facing states forced to implement the law in spite of more than a $9 billion shortfall.

NCLB is federal legislation that requires states to meet specific standards and guidelines in order to receive vital federal funding. Since NCLB was passed, 40 states have produced resolutions, bills, asked for waivers or conducted studies that register concerns about the Act.

Paige released a shrill statement applauding the study’s finding and attacking the parents, educators, legislators and advocacy groups who have asked for Congress to fully fund the law they passed in 2001.

“It is irresponsible of Secretary Paige to label those who have raised serious concerns about the lack of NCLB funding as ‘those who are opposed to accountability and education reform,’” said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way Foundation. “How can the countless parents, education advocates, educators and state legislators who are shouting from every corner of the country for funds to implement the requirements of the law be opponents of accountability and reform? Secretary Paige seems more interested in scoring political points than in helping states to implement this law. The Secretary should stop playing politics and word games and get to the business of helping our public schools educate our children.”

The GAO found that NCLB is not an “unfunded mandate” under a strict and complicated legal definition found in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 (UMRA) because NCLB only imposes requirements on states accepting federal assistance. In order to meet NCLB requirements, states are forced to use their own state and local funds. If states do not abide by NCLB requirements, they will be denied the resources they need to keep educating children. This would be devastating to public schools in nearly every district in every state that rely on Title I dollars from the federal government.

“In effect, it is a catch-22. If states don’t use their own resources to meet the requirements then they federal government will withhold funding. Secretary Paige can cling to legal technicalities all he wants. At the end of the day, state governments are still $9 billion short of what the federal government is requiring them to do,” said Nancy Keenan, education policy director at PFAWF. “We want the law fully funded, implemented properly and in such a way that is in the best interest of our nation’s children.”

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