The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday upheld a lower court's dismissal of Connecticut's lawsuit charging that the federal No Child Left Behind school reform law is an unfunded mandate.
The appeals court ruled that the lower court did not have jurisdiction over the case. The state had argued that the No Child Left Behind law, designed to improve low-performing schools, was forcing towns and cities to spend millions to comply with the program.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal had argued that the law would require the state to provide standardized tests in more grades, raising the total cost of testing to $14.4 million a year. The federal government provided $5.6 million toward the program, leaving Connecticut with an $8.6 million tab, he said.
The decision pleased the Connecticut State Conference of the NAACP, which had joined the U.S. education secretary as a defendant in the case. The group had hoped that the lawsuit would force the state to address its academic achievement gap, the worst in the nation.
"This is a victory for every poor and minority child in Connecticut," said NAACP Conference President Scott X. Esdaile. "Rather than expending its funds on this lawsuit, the state should have been using its resources to address its shameful achievement gap distinction."
The NAACP worried that the lower court ruling could have jeopardized the enforcement of similar statutes.
Blumenthal said his office is reviewing the decision to determine its next step.
"Our key goal remains: hold the federal government to its promise and obligation to provide Connecticut sufficient funding or other means to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act," Blumenthal said in a statement. "The law requires full federal funding and we are determined to fight for it — a necessity in our battle to close achievement gaps and increase accountability."
The suit was filed in 2005 against former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings during the Bush administration. Former State Education Commissioner Betty Sternberg had been openly critical of the No Child Left Behind law, arguing that Connecticut already tested children in grades 4,6 and 8 and pointing out that the new law would require testing in twice as many grades.
"We're pleased that this chapter is concluded because, number one, there's a new administration, and, number 2, NCLB is in its last year," said Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Education.
Murphy pointed out that current U.S. education secretary, Arne Duncan, plans to replace the No Child Left Behind law with a new plan called "A Blueprint for Reform." Besides testing student performance, the plan calls for improving teacher and principal effectiveness, helping families evaluate and improve schools and implementing new standards to prepare students for college and work.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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