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Publish Date: 5/12/2005

Law allows schools to avoid No Child Left Behind sanctions


DENVER — Colorado school districts will be able to avoid getting punished for failing to meet the standards of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, the landmark education law that has caused an outcry among the states.

Republican Gov. Bill Owens allowed the bipartisan bill to become law without his signature last week, saying districts already have the right to opt out of the federal requirements.

However, some officials called the new law a victory because it means the schools won’t be sanctioned for failing to meet the federal law’s standards.

It requires all students to show progress in math and reading by 2014 and that schools track progress within subgroups, including minorities and students who speak little English. The failure of any group can lead a school or a school district to be labeled as failing and require them to use federal aid to pay for after-school tutors or let students transfer to better performing schools. Schools that turn down the aid won’t be subject to those sanctions.

Under the Colorado law, which takes effect July 1, school districts that turn down federal aid would still have to track progress in math and reading and report whether each school has met NCLB’s standards for progress each year. That’s information the state education department must gather in order to get federal funding.

Jane Urschel of the Colorado Association of School Boards said the change would free up districts to better decide how to spend time and money to make sure all students are learning.

She said districts want to make sure that proficient students as well as students in the required subgroups continue to learn, rather than just focusing on the requirements of the federal law.

“It’s a formula about who’s not making progress, but it doesn’t really address teaching and learning. That’s what school districts say they should be focusing on,” she said Wednesday.

Urschel said she thinks a few districts will opt out but she doesn’t expect there to be a large number.

Bill Windler, the state’s assistant education commissioner for special services, said state regulations still require that schools bridge the so-called “achievement gap” and make sure that disadvantaged students make strides. If they don’t, their accreditation may be affected and school districts won’t have the extra money to help those students, he said.

Windler thinks the state law is just an effort to discredit a Bush initiative that is focusing some needed attention on students who have often been ignored.

“There is a belief among some that not all kids can learn and I don’t think that’s an accurate statement and nor does Congress, or they wouldn’t have implemented it,” he said.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, lawmakers in at least 15 other states considered legislation criticizing the federal law or laying out what districts have to do to opt out.

Utah took the most dramatic action. The Republican governor there signed a bill that allows the state to ignore provisions of the federal law if they conflict with state education standards. The Bush administration has said the move could cost Utah $76 million.

In Colorado, much of the push for the law came from rural schools, where administrators complained the paperwork wasn’t worth the amount of federal aid it brought in. Such schools usually get less Title I money, which is based on the number of students receiving free or reduced-cost lunches, than urban schools.

The small Strasburg school district on Colorado’s eastern plains has never participated in the federal law. The much larger Academy 20 district in Colorado Springs said it would give up about $421,000 in federal funding this year because officials didn’t want students to take a standardized test used to gauge the progress of students nationwide.

The district still plans to meet the other requirements.

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