Maine lawmakers seek waiver from NCLB

Maine is joining at least one other state in asking the federal government if it can sidestep President Bush’s education reform law, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The law imposes substantial student-data demands and other technology-oriented requirements on state and local school systems.

A joint resolution approved May 29 by the Maine House and Senate asks Bush and Congress for a waiver from the law.

Legislators say the law includes mandates without funding, and that places a burden on the state and local property taxpayers. Maine also says it already tests its students at higher standards than the federal level, so the federal law is of little use.

“Their mandates do not mesh well with the state of Maine standards, which makes it very difficult for us to manage,” said state Rep. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, who co-sponsored the nonbinding resolution.

Legislative supporters were joined by state Education Commissioner Susan Gendron and Hallowell-Farmingdale schools Superintendent Don Siviski at a news conference shortly before the legislative vote. They said the new mandate will hurt Maine more than it helps its education system.

“The irony with this legislation is that our schools will be left behind when it comes to funding,” said Rep. Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, House chairman of the Legislature’s Education Committee.

The law, signed by Bush in January 2002, requires states to comply with a series of new federal education standards. It requires annual tests for grades three through eight, beginning in 2005, and a highly qualified teacher in every classroom.

Schools that fail to improve must offer students supplemental tutoring and the chance to transfer to a higher-achieving school nearby. After five years, struggling schools can be shut down and reopened as charter schools or privately managed schools.

Supporters of the law call it the most groundbreaking education reform in decades and note that it was passed by overwhelming majorities of Democrats and Republicans.

In Hawaii, a nonbinding resolution passed in April asks state education officials to return all federal funds appropriated under the act unless the U.S. Congress fully funds it. Officials in several other states have taken issue with a lack of full federal funding to implement the law.

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