Re: As Goes Maine . . . .
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- Subject: Re: As Goes Maine . . . .
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- Date: Thu, 29 May 2003 21:41:51 -0700
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Resolution blasts 'no child left behind'
By Ruth-Ellen Cohen, Of the NEWS Staff
Thursday, May 29, 2003
AUGUSTA - Leave us alone or give us some money. That's the message Maine
lawmakers said Wednesday they want to send to the federal government, as
they introduced a resolution calling for either a waiver or full funding of
the federal No Child Left Behind Act.Commissioner of Education Susan
Gendron and representatives of school lobbying groups were on hand to blast
federal officials for trying to impose their will on the state.
Sponsored by Rep. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, and signed by 100 other
legislators, the joint resolution is expected to be considered in the House
It states that Maine already has an "outstanding system of public
elementary and secondary school education," and that the federal law
"imposes significant costs" on schools.
No Child Left Behind is a national education reform program mandating that
students in grades 3-8 be tested annually in math and reading by 2005-06
and in science by 2007-08. Students are supposed to be tested once in
If schools don't make "adequate yearly progress," they will be identified
as failing and be subject to a series of escalating consequences, including
having to offer school choice and tutoring, as well as dismissing teachers,
paraprofessionals and administrators.
So far, around 40 schools in Maine have been classified as "priority
schools" needing improvement.
The group held a news conference outside the Lincoln Elementary School in
Augusta at which lawmakers, educators, lobbyists and Commissioner Gendron
presented a united front. Legislators pointed out that Maine students
already score in the top 10 states on the National Assessment of Education
They said the law was "irrelevant to Maine's needs" because it targets
failing urban schools. They said schools can be unfairly labeled as failing
even though they have made academic strides.
"We don't want another huge unfunded federal mandate imposed on us ... We
are doing well here in Maine. We respectfully ask Washington to leave us
alone," said Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, a co-sponsor of the resolution.
Pointing out the state receives only 6 percent of its total education
budget from the federal government, Education Committee co-chair Sen. Neria
Douglass, D-Auburn, said the "real issue" is that the state could lose the
funds "if we say [the law] isn't well-crafted and it doesn't work for us."
Commissioner Gendron said several hundred schools per year could be
identified as "needing improvement" and consequently be forced to spend
$50,000 putting together a team of mentors, researchers and other
professionals to make changes. The next designations will be made in July,
No one disagrees with the premise that each child should be successful, but
one-size fits-all doesn't work, Gendron said.
Maine's educational standards are exceptionally high, and although many
states have lowered their standards so they won't be identified as failing,
Maine has no intention of following suit, she said.
While the federal government is planning on punishing schools that don't
improve, "that's not Maine's way," she said. "We want to develop an action
plan that supports [them]."
Washington has recognized that not enough attention has been paid to the
law's effect on rural states, according to Gendron. Maine's congressional
delegation "is asking us where the law should be fine-tuned," she said.
Sen. Susan Collins said in a prepared statement Wednesday that she has
spearheaded a bipartisan effort to persuade Congress to increase funding to
help states carry out No Child Left Behind requirements.
The law is "a testing game that public schools cannot win," said Rob
Walker, president of the Maine Education Association, the state's teachers
union. "We view it as an oversimplified solution to a complex issue."
Also at Wednesday's event, the Maine School Management Association, which
represents superintendents and school boards, distributed a paper
criticizing the law.
Noting the federal Department of Education hadn't yet completed all the
details, the MSMA stated, "It is extremely difficult to implement something
and be accountable for it if you do not know what the rules of the road are
when you start the journey."
Rep. Craven said after the meeting she hopes the resolution "will take it
to the people who will put pressure on Congress" to change the law.
Other states, including New Hampshire and Vermont, are taking or
considering taking similar action, Mark Gray, MEA executive director, said.
At 12:18 PM 5/29/2003 -0400, you wrote:
MAINE MAY RESIST FEDERAL SCHOOL LAW
Portland Press Herald -- May 29, 2003
by Tess Nacelewicz
AUGUSTA ? State lawmakers are expected to consider a resolution today
calling on President Bush and Congress to exempt Maine from Bush's
sweeping new education law or fully fund the high cost for states to
comply with it.
The No Child Left Behind Act is a bad fit for Maine and threatens to
undermine the state's own education standards, called Learning Results,
supporters of the resolution said Wednesday.
"We have our own high standards in Maine and don't need more imposed on us
by Washington," said Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, one of a bipartisan
group of 90 state legislators co-sponsoring the resolution. "Nor do we
need the huge costs of this federal legislation imposed on our local
communities and states."
Rotundo said the federal law is designed to address education problems in
large urban areas and is "irrelevant" to a rural state like Maine.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education defended the No Child
Left Behind law Wednesday and said Maine would be the first state to
formally ask for a waiver from its requirements.
"Frankly, a bipartisan Congress passed it and the president feels it
should apply to all the states," Jo Ann Webb said. "We feel that to ask
for an exemption would be turning away from Maine's neediest kids."
She denied that the law is underfunded, saying federal spending for
education in Maine and nationwide has increased by $11 billion since Bush
has been in office.
But Maine is not the only state considering challenging the No Child Left
Behind Act, which Bush signed into law in 2002. It requires annual testing
of students and imposes increasingly harsh penalties on schools whose
students fail to make progress each year.
A small but growing number of other states, including New Hampshire, have
been looking at ways to opt out of the law's demanding requirements
because they say they can't afford to pay for them. By 2004, federal
funding for the law will be $13.2 billion less than Congress authorized
when it passed the measure, the Maine resolution says.
The resolution calls for full funding of the law if the state is not
granted a waiver. The resolution - whose 90 co-sponsors in the House and
Senate are mostly Democrats, but include 17 Republicans, one independent
and one Green Independent - is expected to be taken up in the House today.
But cost is only one concern for many Maine lawmakers and education
officials. At a press conference held outside an Augusta school on
Wednesday, Rep. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, the resolution's primary
sponsor, called the No Child Left Behind Act "detrimental to public
education in Maine." She and others said it imposes unnecessary burdens on
Maine schools, which national tests show are already high-performing.
For example, the law will require yearly testing in Maine for students in
grades 3, 5, 6 and 7. But Maine students in grades 4 and 8 already take
the Maine Educational Assessment - the state's standardized test - each
year. The resolution says the additional testing "will further limit the
time that teachers and students are able to spend on achieving Maine's
system of Learning Results."
Maine also has been complaining for more than a year that the new federal
law penalizes the state because its testing criteria are much tougher than
the rest of the country's. Some states have lowered their testing
standards so fewer of their schools would be penalized under the law for
not measuring up to state standards. Although Maine recently decided to
make some revisions in its MEA test, Education Commissioner Susan Gendron
- who supports the resolution - said Wednesday that the testing standards
Craven said that by one estimate all of Maine's schools could be deemed
failing under the No Child Left Behind law by 2009, facing costly
sanctions that range from extra tutoring for students to possible
dismissal of teachers and administrators.
The resolution also says the federal law has unrealistic expectations for
academic progress by special education students and those still learning
to speak English. Under the law, if just one such subgroup fails to meet
testing standards, the entire school is deemed to have failed, it says.
But Webb said, "The law is the law. These kids have to be tested and held
to the same accountability standards as other kids."
Of Maine's congressional delegation, Democratic Reps. Tom Allen and
Michael Michaud support the resolution. A spokesman for Republican Sen.
Olympia Snowe, Dave Lackey, said Snowe hadn't seen it but said Snowe has
long worked to end unfunded federal mandates and would be willing to work
with the Maine Department of Education "for whatever waiver might be
necessary if that is the best approach."
Republican Sen. Susan Collins said she has been fighting in the Senate for
more federal funding for both No Child Left Behind and special education.
Staff researcher Julia McCue contributed research to this article.
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