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Inside The Law

Inside the Law

As NCLB Reauthorization Looms,Many Debate the Logistics

At a time when political sentiment over issues as far-reaching as the war in Iraq, health insurance and gay marriage could not be more polarized, one issue that both Republicans and Democrats seem to be agreeing on is that the federal No Child Left Behind law is in dire need of revision; there is even growing bipartisan lobbying to eliminate it entirely.

Jack Jennings, a Democrat who as president of the Center on Education Policy has studied how the law has been implemented in all 50 states, says that the law is "drawing opposition from the right because they are opposed to federal interference and from the left because of too much testing."

NCLB was originally passed by large bipartisan majorities in President Bush's first year-87 to 10 in the Senate and 381 to 41 in the House. Today, however, it enjoys the strong support of a powerful but unlikely political threesome: President Bush and the Democratic leaders of the education committees, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rep. George Miller of California.

As reported in DA DAILY (our opt-in electronic newsletter), Arizona and Virginia have battled the federal government in recent months over NCLB rules for testing children with limited English, and Connecticut is two years into a lawsuit arguing that the law has failed to provide states with the necessary federal financing to meet its requirements.

As a result of such disputes, dozens of Republicans in Congress are sponsoring legislation that would cripple the law by allowing states to opt out of its testing requirements and receive federal funding at the same time.

In a similar vein, 10 Democratic senators signed a letter saying that based on feedback from constituents, they consider the law's testing mandates "unsustainable" and demand an overhaul.

Members of Congress and even lawmakers who support the law's goals anticipate that it is headed for a major makeover, which some now admit could be postponed until after the 2008 election.

For Miller, the message is clear: "You can get into a lot of petty politics, but there's a mandate ... for us to improve the law. There's no other way for Congress to go. It'd be a major shock if we reneged on our federal leadership."

Superintendents in the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of 66 of the nation's largest urban public school systems, have prepared 180 recommendations, which include the adoption of uniform national academic standards, starting with math and science, says CGCS Executive Director Michael Casserly.

According to Casserly, the council is releasing its recommendations from a position of supporting NCLB, not one of trying to bring down the law.

In April Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, testified at an NCLB reauthorization hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. He made clear in his testimony that he was not criticizing the law but that he saw a critical need to expand it so that "all students, especially the six million at risk of dropping out, receive the support they need to stay in and finish high school."

Whether the law can be strengthened or even survive in any recognizable form depends on the alliance of President Bush, Kennedy and Miller.

Jennings understands what's at stake. "It's going to be a brawl," he says.

Supreme Court Continues to Review Race in Assigning Schools

As reported in the February issue of District Administration, "Supreme Court Reviews Race in Assigning Schools," the two school diversity cases, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, are still being examined by the court. Decisions are expected to be handed down late this month.

Pastor's Visit to Public School Ignites Controversy

Seven members of a Bible study group at Danbury High School in Connecticut attended an after-school meeting to hear a preacher deliver an antigay message in celebration of the national Day of Truth in April.

North Carolina pastor Valerie Pinnex was allowed to speak at the school only after Principal Catherine Richard received a threatening e-mail from the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal alliance group.

According to its Web site, the Day of Truth was created in 2005 by the Alliance Defense Fund to "counter the promotion of the homosexual agenda and express an opposing viewpoint from a Christian perspective." It was established as a pointed response to the national Day of Silence, the 10-year-old student-led action towards creating safer schools for all students regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression and whose name comes from such students' collective feeling of being silenced by others.

After Richard first told the student group, Youth Alive Club, that the formerly gay preacher's personal story of finding Jesus and being "cured of sinful homosexual behavior" was too controversial and would send the wrong message to students, the club president contacted the Alliance Defense Fund. Upon receiving the e-mail, the school board attorney counseled Richard and Superintendent Salvatore Pascarella that the students' First Amendment rights would be curtailed ifPinnex was not allowed to speak.

So the talk went on as planned. It was held during the school's annual Peace Week event, which includes random acts of kindness and a day for students to give others compliments.

Danbury High teacher Cindy NeJame, who helped organize the Day of Silence as part of Peace Week, attended the talk and was appalled by Pinnex's message.

But Debbie Stence, also a teacher and the Youth Alive Club advisor, insists there was nothing wrong with having the pastor come to speak and tell her story. "Christian students have a right to express their opinions as well," she says.

Nonetheless, Stence says that the meeting has generated considerable animosity at the school and notes that students have chided her behind her back with facetious remarks about their "going to hell."

Richard hasn't ruled out the possibility that the school might now face a lawsuit from the other side.

"It's a very emotional, interesting situation," she said. "We'll have to wait and see what happens."

Jury Awards USDE Whistle-Blower $7.6 Million

In April the Sacramento County Superior Court awarded $7.6 million to James Lindberg, a former California Department of Education official who claimed he faced retaliation from his superiors after reporting the misuse of millions of dollars in federal money intended for education programs.

Lindberg said he was demoted unfairly when he brought evidence to high-ranking department officials that funds distributed between 1995 and 2000 were misused by community-based organizations that ran adult education English and citizenship classes. Some of the classes turned out to be nonexistent.

Federal criminal charges were brought against operators of the adult programs.

Now permanently in a wheelchair, Lindberg says he suffered two heart attacks as a result of his treatment at work.