April 6, 2005
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
Connecticut raised the
stakes in its dispute with federal education officials over
school testing Tuesday, pledging to become the first state
to file a lawsuit challenging the government's No Child Left
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced plans to sue the
U.S. Department of Education for requiring Connecticut to expand
its student testing program without providing enough money to
cover the cost.
Blumenthal announced the lawsuit as state officials prepared
to issue a report today saying that No Child Left Behind - the
centerpiece of President Bush's school reform agenda - will cost
local school districts hundreds of millions of dollars by 2008.
The lawsuit could have nationwide implications, with other states
considering similar challenges, some educators said. Blumenthal
said that he is contacting other states to join him but declined
to say which ones.
"This law is outrageously wrong. ... It is fundamentally
flawed," Blumenthal said. "The stakes here are huge."
The new tests are expected to cost the state $8 million more
by 2008 than the $23 million the federal government has doled
out. A recent state analysis found that federal aid under No
Child Left Behind will fall more than $40 million short by 2008
of what the state needs to spend to fulfill all parts of the
Connecticut's 20-year-old mastery test of fourth-, sixth- and
eighth-graders is regarded as among the most rigorous in the
nation, but U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has
said that it is not sufficient to meet requirements of No Child
Left Behind. Last month, Spellings rejected the state's request
for a waiver of the law's requirement to expand testing to also
include grades 3, 5 and 7.
Blumenthal said that the lawsuit
would be filed in federal court but did not say when, adding
only that "action is imminent."
The announcement drew a sharp
response from the U.S. Department of Education, which issued
a statement saying that the proposed lawsuit "appears to rest on a flawed cost study" of
"The President and Secretary Spellings believe that all
children can learn and that schools and districts should be held
accountable for the academic achievement of every child," the
department's statement said. "That's why it is very disappointing
that officials in Connecticut are spending their time hiring
lawyers while Connecticut's students are suffering from one of
the largest achievement gaps in the nation" - a reference
to lagging test scores by many low-income minority students in
comparison to the performance of white, middle-class children.
"This is a sad day for students of Connecticut," the
department said, adding that the state has received more than
$750 million in No Child Left Behind federal funds since the
law was signed.
Throughout the nation, a handful of local school districts have
filed legal challenges related to No Child Left Behind, and some
state legislatures have passed measures seeking more flexibility
in the law, but Connecticut would be the first state to take
its case to court, national experts said.
"I think this is going to be a significant event because
there are other states that are teetering," said Paul D.
Houston, executive director of the American Association of School
Administrators. "The thing that's interesting about Connecticut
is that it has had a long history of [school] reform and has
been pretty effective ... at dealing with a lot of the issues
No Child Left Behind is concerned about."
David L. Shreve of the National
Conference of State Legislatures said that the lawsuit is the
result of Connecticut officials' requesting flexibility from
the federal government "and
having the door slammed in their face. ... "
"What Connecticut clearly is feeling is the same frustration
they are feeling in other states - Texas, Utah, Minnesota, Wisconsin," he
Blumenthal said that he will base the lawsuit on legal provisions,
including a clause in the law itself, that prohibit the government
from ordering new programs without providing enough money to
The lawsuit drew a lukewarm response from Republican Gov. M.
Jodi Rell, who said Tuesday that she wondered if the money for
the legal battle would be better spent in the classroom. She
also questioned Connecticut's being the only plaintiff in the
"But to do this on our own, I'm not sure about it," she
In a letter last week to Spellings, Rell praised Connecticut's
testing program and said that the state's requests for flexibility
in interpreting the law had not been given thorough review.
Like several other states, Connecticut has clashed with the
federal government over interpretation of the 3-year-old law.
Aside from asking for waivers on the expansion of testing, state
officials have sought flexibility in testing special education
students and children who do not speak English.
Federal officials have said they will reconsider some of those
questions but have flatly rejected Connecticut's request to waive
The Bush administration might be prepared to offer increased
flexibility to states that show they are serious about raising
achievement, according to a report Tuesday by the Associated
Press. The report said that Spellings will outline a more flexible
approach in a meeting this week with top school officials throughout
No Child Left Behind calls for a shakeup of schools that fail
to make sufficient gains on standardized tests. The law is aimed
at closing the academic achievement gap in which some groups
of students, such as racial minorities and children from low-income
families, lag behind others.
Schools that receive Title I money to help educate poor children
and fail to make sufficient progress face increasingly stiff
sanctions under the law, eventually including complete reorganization.
A school can be cited even if a single group - such as special
education students or low-income children - fails to make adequate
Throughout the nation, many educators have complained that the
law is punitive and puts too much emphasis on testing.
In Connecticut, Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg has
said that the additional testing required under the law will
cost millions of dollars more but will produce little benefit.
Blumenthal praised efforts
by Sternberg to seek some latitude in applying the law but
said she "has met with blind federal
Sternberg said she learned
of the lawsuit only hours before Blumenthal's announcement.
She said that the state will continue discussions with U.S.
officials, but that legal action "is
an avenue I think at this point has to be pursued."
Sternberg will issue a report today showing that many local
districts will fall millions of dollars short as they attempt
to fulfill requirements of the law. The report projected sample
costs for three towns: Hamden, Killingly and New Haven.
Even taking into account additional federal money, the towns
would fall short, the report said. It estimated that by 2008,
Killingly would have to commit staffing and additional spending
worth about $3.8 million, while Hamden would commit an extra
$8.7 million and New Haven $10.1 million.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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