Education reform and states’ rights

Republican Rep. Bob Bishop has asked lawmakers and education officials in his home state of Utah for input on the No Child Left Behind Act in preparation for debating its reauthorization.

But most of those officials want the law repealed entirely.

At Bishop’s request, Utah schools Superintendent Patti Harrington prepared five possible reauthorization options that included repealing the law outright, removing most of its requirements or leaving the law in place with significant changes, such as locally established academic standards. The changes might be so significant that the law would have to be renamed, Harrington noted in a report. Daily Herald

For the moment, it appears that the “significant changes” route is favored, and has already been tentatively approved by the State Board of Education. The act is still receiving heavy criticism, however, and most legislators who have commented have said it should be thrown out.

“I just find it interesting that we want to ask our Utah delegation to lobby for rights that should already be ours,” state Rep. Merlynn Newbold (R-South Jordan) said.

For Utah, it isn’t about specifics of the act or Utah’s ability to meet the demands of federal standards. It is about states’ rights to determine their own educational standards and strive for their goals, free from federal interference. This sentiment has a bit of history in Utah. Last year, the state came close to opting out of the act, turning away $116 million in federal funding.

“This is not a partisan issue; this is a states’ rights issue,” said Rep. Margaret Dayton, a 55-year-old Republican and mother of 12 who has led the rebellion to make Utah the first state to opt out of No Child Left Behind. Washington Times

While her bill received incredible support within Utah with unanimous passage in the house, heavy negotiations with the Bush administration kept Utah from rejecting No Child Left Behind.

$116 million in federal money is difficult to turn away from, especially for something as intangible as states’ rights, even if it is such a small portion of Utah’s $3.2 billion education budget. As states continue to eye this money while making their decisions, however, I wonder how much is leaving the state to get this share in return?