House holds off on No Child withdrawal

Last modified: 2/9/2012 12:00:00 AM
Legislators in the House tabled two bills yesterday that would have relieved school districts across the state of the obligations of federal education standards - and relieved their revenue sheets of millions of dollars in federal education funding.

The bills - one would have withdrawn the state from the No Child Left Behind law and the other would have banned all schools and districts from implementing any part of the act without approval from the Legislature - passed by overwhelming, party-line margins in the House Education Committee last month.

No Child Left Behind passed in 2001, and requires states to set incrementally increasing proficiency standards in reading, math and writing, and test all students in public schools against those standards. By 2014, the law requires 100 percent of students to achieve proficiency on the tests.

The law 'substantially increased the federal government's involvement in education, which is a state issue, and that resulted in substantial increases in cost,' said House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt.

But, he added, 'there are significant and justifiable concerns about withdrawing, concerns regarding the loss of significant funds being received by our school districts.'

The state Department of Education estimated that $61.6 million in revenue would be lost by cutting the state's ties to No Child Left Behind.

'The only responsible action is to table this bill until it can be thoroughly and exhaustively analyzed,' Bettencourt said.

House Minority Leader Terie Norelli, a Democrat from Portsmouth, said in a statement that the bills 'put ideology before common sense and should have been killed in committee.'

She likened the vote to table the bills to similar votes to postpone final decisions on other controversial legislation, notably the so-called right-to-work bill.

'What we have seen a lot so far this year is Republicans almost running away from the vote. We've seen a large number of bills that are tabled, and this is another example. The bills were reckless, irresponsible, and there should have been a vote to defeat them outright,' she said later last night.

The largest pot of money provided through No Child Left Behind is called Title 1, and is worth about $40.5 million annually. Through Title 1, the state distributes money based on the portion of a district's students who receive free and reduced-price meals.

Concord schools received $1.57 million in grants this year from the federal government through No Child Left Behind. About $1.2 million of that is targeted based on each school's population of students who receive free or reduced-price meals; the remaining $300,000 is used for professional development for teachers, Superintendent Chris Rath said.

District officials estimated receiving almost $1.7 million next year, according to the proposed budget.

Not all local school districts would see drastic cuts in funding if the state withdrew from the federal requirements.

The Bow School District received $32,645 this year in funding that is used for teacher curriculum development training, 'and that's pretty much it,' said Duane Ford, the district business administrator.

The federal Department of Education announced last fall that states could apply for a waiver from many of the requirements, but while New Hampshire is one of 28 states that submitted letters of intent to request a waiver, state officials have not decided whether the waiver application is worth the potential cost.

The application is due Feb. 21.

At this point, state education officials have 'done a pretty good analysis and even a mock up of a draft of a waiver,' but have not decided yet to submit it, said Paul Leather, deputy commissioner of education.

At issue, the federal Department of Education expects states that seek a waiver to take a top-down approach to issues that are handled by local districts in New Hampshire, such as teacher evaluations, staff contracts and school improvement plans, Leather said.

'We're very hopeful that by early next week we will be able to tell you what our position is on it. We've been studying, reviewing and working on this since last September very intensively,' he said.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com.)




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