The nation's largest teachers union is preparing a challenge to the No Child Left Behind Act, claiming the federal government has not provided enough funding for states to comply.
Adequate funding is an essential part of the law, passed in 2001 and signed by President Bush in January 2002, because of the cost of the testing regime schools must put into place, and because there are strict penalties for schools that do not meet the act's benchmarks.
The National Education Association is working on a legal challenge asserting that not enough federal aid has been appropriated for schools to prepare for and administer the tests in order for them to be in compliance with No Child Left Behind.
NEA spokesman Dan Kaufman said the organization is working with several states and individual school districts to have them take the lead in the planned suit, "because they are the ones most directly affected."
The proposed legal action has drawn the support of the American Association of School Administrators, a professional organization of more than 14,000 school officials in the United States and other countries.
"Ever since the act was introduced and debated in Congress, school administrators nationwide have been raising similar concerns about the bill's potential billions of dollars in unfunded education mandates," AASA Executive Director Paul Houston said in a written statement.
"AASA regrets that the administration and the Department of Education have chosen to use polarizing rhetoric rather than dollars to support this law," he added. States and local school districts need sufficient funds to ensure the successful implementation of NCLB."
How Much Is Enough?
Republican lawmakers say that a report by the General Accounting Office, a Congressional government watchdog group, provides proof that NCLB is being adequately funded.
They note that the study's highest estimate of the costs of NCLB testing was nearly $2 billion less than some estimates by critics of the law.
"This report confirms what several private studies have already shown: Congress is providing more than enough money for states to meet the annual testing requirements," said Rep. John Boehner, the Ohio Republican who heads the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
Educators had a different reading of the report, though.
Michael Hill, a senior project director with the National Association of State Boards of Education, an organization of the nation's 48 state boards of education, said the GAO report clearly makes the case that it is costing the states more to implement the federal law than Washington is providing.
‘This Is the Law’
The GAO report found that states would have to spend approximately $3.9 billion between now and 2008 to administer tests that maintain a mix of short-answer and essay tests, but based on current appropriation levels, only 69 percent of that would be covered by federal funds.
If states increase the number of essay or open-ended questions in their testing, it could cost as much as $5.3 billion, the report found.
The only way the current funding levels would be adequate, according to the report, would be if states eliminated essay questions from their tests and went to all multiple-choice questions.
"This option is unrealistic as it would require states to scale back the quality of their tests, a move antithetical to the high standards promoted by NCLB," the NASBE said in a statement released after the GAO report was published.
Despite the group's belief that funding has not been adequate, the NASBE is not ready to join the NEA and the AASA in any legal action, Hill said.
"Our approach has been, 'This is the law,' " Hill said. "You don't get to choose which laws you like. You keep the focus on the kids, on doing everything you can to give them the best education you can."
Start of Penalties
Unlike exit exams, which students must pass in order to graduate from high school, the testing regime under NCLB has consequences for schools and school districts.
Schools are assessed not only on how the student body does as a whole, but also based on various demographic groups within the student body. Every group must show improvement for a school not to be penalized.
Beginning this year, students in schools that were identified as low performing for the second straight year and failed to show sufficient improvement were allowed to transfer to other schools in the district, costing the failing school the child's share of its federal funding.
States have had to develop tests to comply with the federal law, which requires that every child in grades 3 through 8 take annual standardized statewide assessment tests in math and reading by the 2005-06 school year. A test in science must be in place by the 2007-08 school year.