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Education Reporter

Court Rules in Favor of NEA & Against NCLB
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In January, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a surprising decision on a lawsuit that challenged the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The National Education Association (NEA) teachers union filed suit in Michigan in 2005 to block the implementation of NCLB's standards in schools receiving federal funding. NEA criticism of NCLB has mounted year by year since the act went into effect in 2001, and at the 2007 NEA Annual Meeting, speaker after speaker referred to NCLB's so-called "unfunded mandates." Now the 6th Circuit Court has ruled in favor of the NEA and the nine school districts that participated to protest implementation of NCLB.

The NEA wanted the court to absolve school districts from spending any money on their efforts to comply with NCLB's requirements. The court gave the union exactly what it asked for, saying that NCLB fails to provide clear notice to states as to whether they must bear additional costs of compliance with its requirements.˙The Court then held that states need not comply with NCLB requirements that are not fully funded by the federal government.

The 6th Circuit covers Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. A three-judge panel ruled on the case. Appointees of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush ruled in favor of the NEA, and an appointee of Pres. George H. W. Bush dissented.

"NCLB, by its terms, fails to provide clear notice of the states' obligation to incur additional costs to comply with the act's requirements," wrote Judge R. Guy Cole, the Clinton appointee.

But the dissenter, Judge David McKeague, wrote that "any reasonable state official, reading the NCLB with a clear eye, would understand that there was no guarantee that federal funds would match all of the costs controlled and incurred by States and local school districts." McKeague's dissent charged that state and local officials knew perfectly well what they were committing themselves to do when they accepted NCLB funding. "Many of them could not bring themselves to pass up the federal funds, but simply hoped that someone or something could save them at the end of the road. Today the majority [ruling] does exactly that."

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, named as the defendant in the lawsuit, writes that "this decision could undermine efforts to improve the education of our nation's children, in particular those students most in need. . . . No Child Left Behind is not an unfunded mandate but rather a compact between the states and the federal government, which asks that in exchange for federal dollars, results be demonstrated." The Bush administration may appeal the decision.

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