U.S. expands states' flexibility in No Child Left Behind law


MOUNT VERNON, Va. - Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings offered greater flexibility to states on Thursday in meeting the requirements of the Bush administration's education reform law, calling the changes a major policy shift.

In her first national response to growing resistance among state officials to the law, known as No Child Left Behind, Spellings sought to set a new, more cooperative tone. She compared the law's tempestuous first years to those of an infant's experiencing "the terrible 2s."
"This is a new day," she said. "States that show results and follow the principles of No Child Left Behind will be eligible for new tools to help you meet the law's goals."
Although President Bush promoted the law during his re-election campaign as one of his major accomplishments, more than 30 states - including many Republican strongholds - have raised objections to it. Some argue that the federal government is not adequately financing its requirements, which include a broad expansion of standardized testing. Others object to federal intrusion into an area long considered the domain of the states.
It was unclear whether Spellings' proposals went far enough to assuage state officials' concerns, though several state superintendents expressed approval, as did both national teachers unions and several members of Congress.
But Connecticut officials, who announced earlier this week they would sue the federal government for forcing the state to conduct more testing without providing the money to pay for it, were not impressed.
"Nothing in all of today's verbiage corrects the key legal lapse: By the law's clear terms, no mandate means no mandate, if it's unfunded," said Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general. "Our determination to sue continues."
Spellings announced specific concessions in only one area, concerning how learning-disabled students must be tested.
Until now, the administration has allowed only 1 percent of the most severely handicapped students to be given special tests; all other disabled students have been required to take the same test given regular students. Dozens of state officials have called that unfair and unrealistic. Spellings said Thursday that states would be allowed to administer alternative tests to an additional 2 percent of students.
Spellings also said the Department of Education could give some states additional flexibility, but she said they must first prove that they deserve it.