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No child left behind: leaving states cold


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James Dillard isn't negotiating anymore.

The former teacher and current member of the Virginia house of delegates met repeatedly with Department of Education officials and even visited the White House to complain about No Child Left Behind, the law President Bush signed two years ago that requires states to test students in reading and math every year and penalizes schools that don't meet standards.

Dillard wanted more flexibility in administering the policy; he got none. So last month he led the house of delegates in passing a symbolic resolution calling for Congress to exempt Virginia from the law, which it refers to as "the most sweeping intrusion into state and local control of education in the history of the United States."

At least 20 states have joined the revolt. Utah's house of representatives last week passed a bill that forbids the state to spend any of its money to meet the law's requirements.

No Child Left Behind has declared more than 6,000 schools failing and, the states say, imposed on them millions in costs to create new tests and accountability systems.

Critics are upset about those costs and the difficulty of getting exemptions to the policy, even though many schools argue that they are failing only because a few students with special needs aren't making the bar.

The issue is upending the usual party divide. Republicans have led the fight against Bush's policy in states like Virginia and Utah. Senator Ted Kennedy was a key Democratic supporter of the law but is now contemplating changes.

And Bush's likely opponent in the presidential race has criticized him sharply for the funding shortfalls but has so far indicated no desire to fight him on a central tenet of the law.

Says an adviser to John Kerry: "He wouldn't in any way back away from the commitment to accountability."

Copyright © 2004 Time Inc.

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