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Defying No Child law could cost Utah

Published April 19, 2005 1:13 am

Ed secretary says federal funds likely to be cut by up to $76M
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Contrary to assurances from the governor's office, Utah could lose as much as $76 million in federal funding if lawmakers pass a bill challenging No Child Left Behind during this week's special session.

The revelation came in a letter Monday from U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch. The letter responds to Hatch's request for input on state legislation - now known as House Bill 1001 - that would put Utah's school-accountability system ahead of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), President Bush's initiative to close the achievement gap between minority and white students.

''While the enactment of the bill itself does not guarantee noncompliance with NCLB, the implementation of a number of its provisions is likely to cause conflicts and trigger . . . [financial] consequences,'' Spellings wrote. ''Several principles in the bill are fundamentally troublesome, and appear to be designed to provoke noncompliance with federal law and needless confrontation.''

HB1001 gives school officials authority to ignore NCLB provisions that conflict with state education priorities or cost state dollars.

In jeopardy are $55 million in Title I funds for disadvantaged students, $19 million in Title II funds for teacher training and $2 million in Title V funds for parental-choice programs, Spellings wrote.

Hardest hit would be districts with large populations of low-income students, such as Salt Lake City, Granite and San Juan school districts.

"It's demoralizing news but not entirely surprising," said Charles Hausman, an associate superintendent in Salt Lake City district. "It's difficult to understand how anyone can support legislation that could put at risk $76 million for education of children when Utah already spends the least per pupil in the nation."

Preliminary figures from the state Office of Education show his district is expecting nearly $9 million from the three federal pots outlined by Spellings. Much of that money pays for extra teachers in disadvantaged schools.

State Schools Superintendent Patti Harrington, an ardent supporter of HB1001, acknowledged the loss would hurt students who need the most help. At the same time, she frowned on the department's ''threat.''

"I regret that the Department of Education continues to be an agency of threats to the state," she said Monday.

Harrington said the state Office of Education would not defy NCLB and risk the federal funds - unless mandated by the Legislature.

''I don't know how strong their directives will be,'' she said.

That will become clear today and Wednesday, as the Legislature debates HB1001 - known during the general session as House Bill 135.

Until recently, HB1001 has had overwhelming support from a wide swath of politically disparate groups, including the Eagle Forum and the Utah Education Association, not to mention unanimous endorsements from the House during the general session.

Some of that support has eroded as minority groups and lawmakers representing diverse districts began to foresee possible implications of the bill, such as weaker accountability for minority students' achievement.

Even so, Republican leaders have promised the bill's easy passage, and the governor's office reiterated its assurances that federal funds are not at risk.

"While the law would not put at risk Title I funds directly, state school officials would be required to act judiciously under the law in order to continue Title I and other federal funding sources for education," Huntsman attorney Mike Lee said in a prepared statement.







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