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National Education Assocaition (NEA) Files Lawsuit Against NCLB

April, 2005

NEA Announcement
New York Times Guest Editorial
Civil Rights Commission's William Taylor Response to NEA Filing of Lawsuit
Department of Justice Files Motion to Dismiss NEA Lawsuit
NCLB Suit Dismissed, NEA To Appeal (Nov, 2005)

Stand Up For Children: Pontiac v. Spellings

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law says the federal government must pay for the rules and regulations it is imposing on our nation's public schools. But Washington lawmakers haven't done so, creating a $27 billon shortfall that parents have had to cover with their tax money.

A diverse network of schools that are saying "No more" to paying the costs of Washington's regulations teamed up with the NEA to file the first national lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education on April 20, 2005. With this lawsuit, local communities are simply asking the Bush administration to allow parents to spend hard-earned tax dollars on their children's classrooms -- not bureaucracy, paperwork and testing companies.

On the Sidelines of the Most Important Civil Rights Battle Since 'Brown'

By Brent Staples, Guest Editorial, New York Times, April 18, 2005

The civil rights establishment was once a fiercely independent force that bedeviled politicians on both sides of the aisle and evaluated policies based on whether those policies harmed or helped the poor. This tradition of independence has disappeared. Over the last two decades, in fact, the old-line civil rights groups have evolved into wholly owned subsidiaries of the Democratic Party. The groups are disinclined to turn on their friends - or to openly embrace even beneficial policies that happen to have a Republican face.

This posture has been painfully evident in the debate surrounding the No Child Left Behind education law, a signature Bush administration reform that also happens to be the best hope for guaranteeing black and Latino children a chance at equal education. The law is not perfect and will need adjustments. But its core requirement that the states educate minority children to the same standards as white children breaks with a century-old tradition of educational unfairness. The new law could potentially surpass Brown v. Board of Education in terms of widening access to high-quality public education.

The same civil rights groups that sing hosannas to Brown have been curiously muted - and occasionally even hostile - to No Child Left Behind. But the groups have mainly been missing from the debate, according to Dr. James Comer, the educational reformer and Yale University psychiatrist. "They have been absent," Dr. Comer told me last week. "They need to pay attention to what works. They need to be in the middle of the fight because these are our kids."

Why are civil rights groups standing on the sidelines instead of fighting to ensure that this law succeeds? The reasons are numerous and complex. One of the most obvious is that civil rights officials and some black lawmakers are wary of embracing a law associated with a conservative Republican president.

Like many other Americans, people in the civil rights establishment typically argue that it is unfair to enforce No Child Left Behind - and to require higher achievement from minority children and better performance from their teachers - until the government provides enough money to do the job. There is no question that the law is underfinanced. But how much money is "enough" to proceed? What if the ideal dollar amount takes 25 years to materialize and what if it never arrives at all? In this context, waiting for "enough money" becomes an argument for maintaining the disastrous status quo and sacrificing yet another generation of minority students.

Next up is the antitesting argument. Civil rights activists commonly embrace the popular but erroneous view that the reading and math tests associated with No Child Left Behind are culturally biased or unfair to minority children. Paradoxically, those who hold this view are often middle- and upper-class African-Americans who have law degrees and Ph.D.'s, which require rigorous tests and high achievement.

The simple achievement tests required under the law are essential to the objective of closing the education gap. By arguing that these tests are inappropriate and culturally biased, these members of the liberal black elite have unwittingly embraced the worst stereotypes about the poor. They have also given cover to politicians who believe that the achievement gap can never be closed and that minority children can never reach the levels attained by their white, affluent counterparts.

The most complex and deep-seated objections to No Child Left Behind are clearly emanating from teachers and school administrators, who have come under increasing pressure to improve student performance. They have always wielded an outsized influence in the black community, especially in the days of segregation, when they made up that community's largest, most visible and most respected professional group. Members of the teacher corps have historically played powerful roles in civic organizations, including churches, while forming the backbone of civil rights groups like the N.A.A.C.P.

Thanks in part to the civil rights movement, which expanded job opportunities, the teacher corps in the black community is not what it used to be. Many black children now attend school in educational dead zones, where teachers are two or three times more likely to be uncredentialed or unqualified than in the suburbs. It should come as no surprise that minority children lag behind.

The educational dead zones have become part of a vicious cycle. As experienced teachers retire, they are replaced by people who were themselves educated in dismal public schools and sent on to teachers' colleges that are often little more than diploma mills. The federal government tried to fix this problem in the late 1990's when it encouraged teachers' colleges to beef up curriculum and student performance in exchange for the federal dollars they get in subsidies and student loans. This effort failed, but it spawned No Child Left Behind, which requires the states to place highly qualified teachers in every classroom.

This is a difficult moment for the civil rights movement, which is understandably fearful of taking positions that would discomfit the teachers among its supporters. But standing silently on the sidelines of the debate about teacher preparedness and No Child Left Behind is hardly the answer. Unless the civil rights establishment adopts a stronger and more public position, it will inevitably be viewed as having missed the most important civil rights battle of the last half-century.

Statement of William Taylor on NEA’s Lawsuit Attacking The No Child Left Behind Act

April 20, 2005

The NEA's lawsuit contains no recognition whatsoever of the obligation of state and local governments to provide a decent and adequate public education for their children. One can search the 60-page complaint in vain for any statement that the costs of providing highly qualified teachers or small class sizes or other crucial resources should be borne by anyone other than the federal government.

Nor does the NEA acknowledge that states are shortchanging poor children by distributing tax revenues disproportionately to wealthy districts. The Illinois State Education Association, one of the plaintiffs, should be ashamed to be attacking the federal government for not giving enough when the State of Illinois spends several hundred dollars more per child on wealthy students than on those who are poor.

While we join others in seeking increased federal funding for public education, we must note that the federal government has increased its appropriations several fold at a time when state funding is lagging. The Pontiac School District, for example, is receiving over $7,000,000 under Title I Part A of NCLB this school year. This sum amounts to nearly $1800 per poor child counted under the federal aid formula.

We hope that the NEA's suit -- which lacks any legal foundation -- will be quickly dismissed and that the attention of all parties will be focused on the critical need to improve education.

Finally we must note the cruel irony of the NEA's filing a suit where the lead plaintiff is the school district of Pontiac, Michigan. In 1971, right wing organizations responded to a court order calling for the desegregation of the public schools by dynamiting ten school buses. The federal courts of course had not provided any money for Pontiac to carry out its duties. So today we are hearing that improving education for the minority and poor children of Pontiac should be excused because it is an underfunded federal mandate.

DOJ files a motion on behalf of U.S. Secretary of Education to dismiss NEA lawsuit

NSBA website, June, 2005

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a motion on behalf of U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings asking a federal district court to dismiss a suit brought by the National Education Association (NEA), several state NEA affiliates, and several local districts over the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The suit alleges that the federal government has failed to provide states and local school districts with sufficient federal funding to satisfy NCLB's accountability standards and that this contradicts NCLB's so-called "unfunded mandate provision" and the Spending Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In response, DOJ's motion asserts that neither the NEA and nor the school districts have legal standing to bring the suit and that the plaintiffs are flatly wrong in their interpretation of the unfunded mandate provision. DOJ argues that NEA and its affiliates are attempting to assert the legal rights or interest of third parties, here school districts, which rules of standing do not permit where the third party can prosecute its own claim. Moreover, the motion asserts, the NEA plaintiffs' alleged injuries are too speculative and not "fairly traceable" to NCLB. The NEA plaintiffs' suit therefore "amounts to no more than the use of a federal forum to proclaim an advocacy group's belief that states and school districts should be receiving more federal funds," which is "not an appropriate use of the federal courts under basic principles of standing." DOJ goes on to assert that the school districts lack standing because they

  1. fail to allege their own specific injuries but instead point to reports addressing other districts
  2. overstate the adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets they must meet under NCLB by failing to account for NCLB's "safe harbor" provision, which recognizes significant academic progress even when it does not reach targeted goals
  3. implausibly argue that they cannot be required to spend any non-federal funds on making AYP, when increasing proficiency in language arts and math is the fundamental mission of public school districts in the first place
  4. incorrectly assert claims that have to do with state costs, not local costs.

Finally, the motion articulates DOJ's explanation of NCLB's unfunded mandates language, asserting that the provision was intended merely to preclude federal officials from imposing requirements or costs beyond those specifically sanctioned by Congress in the statute. As a matter of statutory interpretation, the plaintiffs' claim that Congress intended NCLB to impose no unfunded costs as a condition of receiving federal assistance confuses a "condition of assistance" with a "mandate" and is inconsistent with the language of the provision, with its legislative history originating in Goals 2000, with other provisions of NCLB, and with the act's purpose. No reasonable person, DOJ argues, could believe that Congress intended to fund the entire cost of teaching language arts and math or of ensuring that all teachers are highly qualified. Congress cannot plausibly have intended to provide states and school districts with so ready an excuse to avoid the very accountability that was its entire purpose in enacting NCLB.

Judge tosses out NCLB education lawsuit

By Toni Locy, Associated Press, November 23, 2005

WASHINGTON (AP) - A judge threw out a lawsuit Wednesday that sought to block the No Child Left Behind law, President Bush's signature education policy. The National Education Association said it would appeal. The NEA and school districts in three states had argued that schools should not have to comply with requirements that were not paid for by the federal government.

Chief U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman, based in eastern Michigan, said, "Congress has appropriated significant funding" and has the power to require states to set educational standards in exchange for federal money.

The NEA, a union of 2.7 million members and often a political adversary of the administration, had filed the suit along with districts in Michigan, Vermont and Bush's home state of Texas, plus 10 NEA chapters in those states and Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah.

The school districts had argued that the law is costing them more than they are receiving in federal funding.

The law requires states to revise academic standards and develop tests to measure students' progress annually. If students fail to make progress, the law requires states to take action against school districts.

Reg Weaver, president of the NEA, said his group would appeal.

"Parents in communities where school districts are financially strained were promised that this law would close the achievement gaps," he said. "Instead, their tax dollars are being used to cover unpaid bills sent from Washington for costly regulations that do not help improve education."

The lawsuit alleged that there was a gap between federal funding and the cost of complying with the law. Illinois, for example, will spend $15.4 million annually to meet the law's requirements on curriculum and testing but will receive $13 million a year, the lawsuit said.

Friedman said that the law "cannot reasonably be interpreted to prohibit Congress itself from offering federal funds on the condition that states and school districts comply with the many statutory requirements, such as devising and administering tests, improving test scores and training teachers."

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said, "This is a victory for children and parents all across the country. Chief Judge Friedman's decision validates our partnership with states to close the achievement gap, hold schools accountable and to ensure all students are reading and doing math at grade-level by 2014."


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Last modified: May 4, 2005

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