Yesterday Connecticut sued the federal government over the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA). The Hartford Courant reports that some of Connecticut's leading educators and politicians hailed the lawsuit while two national civil rights leaders called the suit ill-advised.
The NCLBA requires more testing of students and a shake-up of schools that fail to make sufficient progress with all students, including low-income children, special education students and members of minority groups.
Connecticut's Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, was careful in announcing
the lawsuit to say it was all about $50 million in unfunded federal mandates on Connecticut under the No Child Left Behind Act, saying:
Give up your unfunded mandates or give us the money.
Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education said the lawsuit "sends the wrong message to students, educators and parents:"
The funds have been provided for testing, but Connecticut apparently wants to keep those funds without using them as intended.
According to Waterbury's Republican-American, federal education officials strongly criticized Connecticut for the lawsuit and said it detracted from the real issue at hand: the gap between how its white students and their minority counterparts perform on standardized tests.
"Unfortunately, today's action doesn't bring the state any closer to closing its achievement gap, which is among the largest in the nation," said Susan Aspey.
Criticism came from others besides the federal government. The Republican-American reported that William Taylor, chairman of the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights, said:
If states were closing achievement gaps on their own, the federal government would not have needed to intervene.
In eighth grade math, only 17 percent of Connecticut's white students scored in the lowest category of achievement compared to more than half of black and Latino students, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
John C. Brittain, chief counsel and senior deputy director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C., joined Taylor in a letter to Blumenthal, which alleged that Connecticut has failed to comply with NCLBA requirements to help local school districts meet academic standards:
That failure, the letter said, cannot be excused by the state's claims that the law is under-funded.
The Greenwhich Time quoted Thomas Foley, a Greenwich resident who founded the charitable organization Great Inner City Schools to help improve Connecticut's schools:
I think that the attorney general is missing the point, and that is that we have a serious achievement gap in our public schools in Connecticut. It's a disgrace that a state with the resources that Connecticut has isn't doing a better job with its schools.
Last week it was reported that 145 Connecticut schools were placed on a state watch list of schools failing to meet standards in the federal act.
Foley argued that, contrary to the suit's claim that the federal government has illegally imposed more that $50 million in unfunded mandates on the state, the Bush administration has actually requested $189 million of funding for Connecticut schools in 2006, a 39 percent increase over allocations from 2001, before the law was in place.
A copy of the complaint Connecticut submitted in federal court is available as a PDF file here.