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(October 28, 2002 // link)

Twenty-five years ago, the Federal Government enacted the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This legislation was intended to ensure that all students, regardless of their particular disabilities, be educated in our nation’s public schools. Along with the imposition of requirements for meeting the needs of a diverse population of students known as “special needs” students, the legislation promised federal funds to support the requirements of the law. Twenty five years after IDEA became law, the federal government still funds less tan 17% of the cost of the programs it mandates under IDEA. The balance of these costs is borne by local school districts.

Despite the failure of the US Government to fund the mandates of IDEA, we are now faced with a potentially more complex and costly program under the recently enacted No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA). This law seeks to usurp the sovereign authority of the states and of local school boards guaranteed under the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution. Specifically, it expands federal control of education to the local level. The law imposes a measure of yearly progress on all school that will result in up to 90% of all schools in the country being identified as “failing” schools as reported by the Congressional Research Service.

The fiscal responsibility for implementation of the requirements of the act lies with the local school district in an environment where the 25 year old federal commitment to fund IDEA remains unmet. NCLBA may present an effective formula for resolving the problems perceived in large states such as California and Texas where state government actively funds and controls education at the local level, but it has no rational relationship to the reality of public education in states like New Hampshire where there is a premium placed on local control and administration.

Before seeking to impose new requirements on local school districts, the federal government should meet the immediate funding needs of the current legislation. Further attempts by the federal government to impose a centralized system of school administration like the Texas system on the rest of us should be resisted by our elected officials. We must resist the imposition of further unfunded mandates designed to make uninformed politicians feel good, and should work to resolve our own education funding crisis in a way that will support the good work of our local school districts.

Consistent with a recent resolution presented to the New Hampshire School Boards Association by the Somersworth School Board, our governor and elected representatives should be encouraged by their constituents to “preserve the powers guaranteed by the constitution to the people, as represented by their local government, who bear the overwhelming cost of and responsibility of educating their children, and the immeasurable joy of doing so”. In so doing, they should assist in the establishment of “measures of school progress that are educationally and scientifically defensible and resist the simplistic formula of relying on the results of a single test at a single grade level of [different groups] of children”. Lastly, they should focus their attention on ensuring the full funding of the mandates contained in existing federal legislation.

NCLBA brings with it tremendous costs at the state and local level. The cost to the state of implementation of the requirements of the act will dramatically affect the budget of the state department of education at a time when state budgets are being dramatically cut to meet the adequacy requirements of Claremont II. Likewise, the local administrative costs will greatly affect the administration of the local school district. Each state should be left to the task of adequately educating its children as the Constitution intended. Tell your Senators and Congressmen what a great IDEA that is.

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Copyright 2003 Edward Philpot

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