Minnesota candidates: No Child Left Behind not workingby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Republicans and Democrats in the crowded gubernatorial race say the federal No Child Left Behind law is not working for Minnesota schools.
Many candidates say the state should opt of the regulations, even if that means losing millions of dollars a year in education funding.
The tough accountability and testing requirements of No Child Left Behind have been the law of the land since early 2002.
The law established new standards aimed at boosting the performance of schools and disadvantaged students.
But concerns about too many tests and a loss of local control remain strong nearly eight years later. With Minnesota set to elect a new governor next year, those concerns are showing up on the campaign trail.
Former state representative Matt Entenza raised the issue at a recent DFL candidate forum in St. Paul.
"We've got to get rid of leave no child behind. It is ridiculous," Entenza said. "And we ought to get the state out of it. And that's one of the first executive actions I'll take is to say to D.C....sayonara."
Entenza explained in a later interview that he sees No Child Left Behind as an example of the federal government badly overreaching. He says the law has resulted in the unfair labeling of many schools as failures.
Republican candidates for governor are also critical of the federal law.
Former State Auditor Pat Anderson is also advocating an opt out, and she says many teachers feel the same way.
"We need to get out of No Child Left Behind," Anderson said.
Anderson says she's not against holding schools accountable for educating kids, she just doesn't want it dictated at the federal level.
"Schools should be controlled at the local level, not at the state or federal level," Anderson said. "So, I think we've taken several steps backwards when we joined on to No Child Left Behind."
All seven GOP candidates for governor say they want out of the No Child Left Behind laws.
DFL candidates have similar concerns about the federal education law, but they're less willing to pull the plug because Minnesota could lose more $230 million a year in federal funding for schools.
Former state Senator Steve Kelley, who chaired the Senate education committee, has sponsored bills aimed at getting Minnesota out from under the burden of No Child Left Behind law.
But as a candidate for governor, Kelley is stressing the need to work with Washington to fix the law. He doesn't want to lose the money.
"You really have to think twice about doing that, especially if you're going to balance the budget at the same time," Kelley. "So, that's why I'm out working with the president and congress ahead of just willy nilly saying we're out of here."
Other DFL candidates are also urging caution.
State Representative Paul Thissen says No Child Left Behind hasn't been working. But he says the idea of opting out is political rhetoric.
"I think it's an easy thing to capture in a sound bite, to say I'm going to do away with No Child Left Behind," Thissen said. "The actual solution to the problems caused by No Child Left Behind is much more complicated than that. And I think as candidates running for governor we owe it to the people of Minnesota to take a more complex approach to it."
But critics say the issue is not complex. State Senator David Hann says Minnesota shouldn't tie itself to to bad public policy just for the money that comes with it. Hann says the federal government simply has no business in education.
"Read the constitution. There is no provision in the federal constitution that gives the federal government any authority to have anything to do with education," Hann said. "And I think it is wrong for the federal government to take our tax dollars and then bribe us in order to get a portion of them back by accepting a bunch of federal regulations and federal laws that are not constitutionally permitted."
Hann and others who want to opt out argue that the potential loss of federal funds would hardly be noticed, since most of that money currently goes toward compliance with the law.
They point to a 2004 report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor that warned the rising costs under No Child Left Behind could eventually outpace the federal funding.
- All Things Considered, 12/11/2009, 4:50 p.m.