Wednesday, April 20, 2005

NEA, School Districts Launching First National Suit Over Education Law

Laredo ISD is one Texas district, by the way, that's named in this lawsuit. Go LISD!!! -Angela

AP Education Writer
April 20, 2005

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The nation's largest teachers union and school districts in three states are launching a legal fight over No Child Left Behind, aiming to free schools from complying with any part of the education law not paid for by the federal government. The lawsuit, expected to be filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for eastern Michigan, is the most sweeping challenge to President Bush's signature education policy. The outcome would apply only to the districts involved but could have implications for all schools nationwide. Leading the fight is the National Education Association, a union of 2.7 million members that represents many public educators and is financing the lawsuit. The other plaintiffs are nine school districts in Michigan, Texas and Vermont, plus 10 NEA chapters in those three states and Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, as the chief officer of the agency that enforces the law, is the only defendant. The suit centers on a question that has overshadowed the law since Bush signed it in 2002: whether the president and Congress have provided enough money. The challenge is built upon one paragraph in the law that says no state or school district can be forced to spend its money on expenses the federal government has not covered. ``What it means is just what it says _ that you don't have to do anything this law requires unless you receive federal funds to do it,'' said NEA general counsel Bob Chanin. ``We want the Department of Education to simply do what Congress told it to do. There's a promise in that law, it's unambiguous, and it's not being complied with.'' The plaintiffs want a judge to order that states and schools don't have to spend their own money to pay for the law's expenses _ and order the Education Department not to try to yank federal money from a state or school that refuses to comply based on those grounds. Spending on No Child Left Behind programs has increased 40 percent since Bush took office, from $17.4 billion to $24.4 billion, federal figures show. The Bush administration has repeatedly said schools have enough money to make the law work. Yet the suit accuses the government of shortchanging schools by at least $27 billion, the difference between the amount Congress authorized and what it has spent. The shortfall is even larger, the suit says, if the figures include all promised funding for poor children. The suit, citing a series of cost studies, outlines billions of dollars in expenses to meet the law's mandates. They include the costs of adding yearly testing, getting all children up to grade level in reading and math, and ensuring teachers are highly qualified. To cover those costs, the suit says, states have shifted money away from such other priorities as foreign languages, art and smaller classes. The money gap has hurt schools' ability to meet progress goals, which in turn has damaged their reputations, the suit says. Plaintiffs include the Pontiac School District in Michigan, the Laredo Independent School District in Laredo, Texas; the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union in Brandon, Vt.; and six of the school districts that are part of Rutland Northeast in south central Vermont. The NEA promised to bring the suit almost two years ago and began recruiting states to be plaintiffs. But the union found no takers _ in part because states had no firm cost estimates, and in part because states were wary of the political fallout of suing the federal government. More than a dozen states, however, are considering anti-No Child Left Behind legislation this year. On Tuesday, the Utah Legislature passed a measure giving state education standards priority over federal ones imposed by No Child Left Behind. The school districts involved in the lawsuit give the NEA the diversity it wanted, from rural Vermont students to limited-English learners in Laredo to poor students in Pontiac. In the suit, Spellings is accused of violating both the education law and the spending clause of the U.S. Constitution. The NEA and the Bush administration have had a testy relationship. When the union first promised the lawsuit, then-Education Secretary Rod Paige accused the NEA of putting together a ``coalition of the whining.'' He later referred to the NEA as a ``terrorist organization'' for the way it opposed the law, a comment for which he later apologized.

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