DFLers won't necessarily support a Republican effort to pull Minnesota out of the controversial federal school program.
Legislators have the much-maligned No Child Left Behind law in their cross hairs -- again.
When the 2008 legislative session cranks up next month in St. Paul, Republican senators will be ready to introduce a bill that would end Minnesota's participation in NCLB. The federal program is aimed at forcing schools to improve their students' test scores, and slaps many of them with penalties if they don't.
"What we want is to make a real firm stand for local control," said Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, who added that he represents Senate Republicans on this issue. "We've had five years of the No Child Left Behind regime, and I think it's safe to call it a failure now. We're giving it an F and trying to take back our schools."
Senators and representatives from both parties have tried to yank Minnesota out from under No Child Left Behind's requirements over the last few years, but to no avail. For one thing, thumbing their noses at the federal government has a price: The loss of federal school funds.
According to the most recent estimates, Minnesota could forfeit $250 million a year if it decided to buck No Child Left Behind. Also, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been a supporter of the program, though his office was not available for comment on the current proposed legislation.
And ultimately, such efforts have gotten pushed behind more important education priorities, such as funding schools.
Nationally, the law, which was signed by President Bush in 2002, is up for reauthorization. But efforts to change or scrap it altogether have gotten mired down in Congress. Democratic presidential hopefuls have attacked it, and several, including Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Richardson, have said they will end it. Several leading Republican presidential candidates -- Mitt Romney, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani among them -- have voiced support for the law, according to published reports.
In a nutshell, No Child Left Behind aims to have every child proficient in reading and math by 2014. Every year, schools are responsible for making sure their students attain testing goals in reading and math. Schools can be penalized if a certain percentage of students -- including percentages of student subgroups such as black, Hispanic, poor and non-English-speaking students -- don't meet testing goals that rise every year.
Minnesota educators have generally opposed No Child Left Behind, saying it forces schools to devote too much time and money to testing and can result in tough penalties, such as the forced reorganization of entire schools if they fail to meet their goals for too many consecutive years.
Michel said the state can absorb the loss of federal funds because of all the money it would save by not having to adhere to the law. Indeed, a legislative auditor's report released in 2004 said that Minnesota schools would have to spend tens of millions of dollars to meet No Child Left Behind's requirements. Michel thinks the law's detractors include plenty of DFLers, but he is uncertain how much bipartisan support Republican senators can muster for a total withdrawal from the program.
"My sense is that there is bipartisan agreement that [NCLB] is not working," he said. "There may be some who don't want to go quite as far as withdrawing from it. I think we're just negotiating the terms of the divorce here."
Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville and the leader of a previous effort to get Minnesota out of NCLB, said she wouldn't necessarily support the Republican effort.
"I think they're Johnny-come-latelies," she said. "To me, it's kind of cheap words right now when the president is sinking into the mud on so many issues, and now they can divorce themselves from him on this."
Greiling said that her position on NCLB has evolved into an "amend-it-don't-end-it" stance and that she wants to wait for Congress to decide what to do before committing to state action.
"It's not really a state action anymore," she said.
Norman Draper • 612-673-4547