Opponents of the No Child Left Behind Act, who complain that it's not adequately funded, received a setback this past summer (2004). The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court dismissed a complaint by Pennsylvania's Reading School District claiming that NCLB was illegal because it was underfunded.
In the winter 2004 issue of Education Next, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Brad Bumsted examines the Reading School District and its motivations. In "Where Have All the Dollars Gone?" Bumsted finds that "Reading's real credentials as a poster child for the anti-NCLB movement derived from its fiscal problems. The district couldn't pay its regular bills, let alone pay for NCLB."
Reading's suit was the first attempt to secure extra funding under the law by suing a state education department. The suit garnered support, via amicus briefs, from several powerful interest groups, including Pennsylvania's largest teachers' union and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. This past August, the Commonwealth Court found that "essentially, the district is challenging aspects of NCLB that are within the purview of the Department's expertise and discretion and this court will not disturb the exercise of such discretion unless it has been abused." Remarkably, within a week of the ruling, the Reading School District filed a new complaint challenging NCLB.
Bumsted places the Reading lawsuit in context. The city has suffered from demographic change, but it also cut its own tax rate from 22 to 16 mills between 1999 and 2003, turning a $7 million surplus into a $5 million deficit. Moreover, during the same period, the district benefited from a 99 percent increase in federal aid, while earning nearly a thousand dollars more per student from federal and state sources than from the average Pennsylvania school district. And, despite being sued, Pennsylvania taxpayers bailed the district out in each of the past two years with emergency funds totaling nearly $10 million.
"Where Have All the Dollars Gone" can be read in its entirety in the winter issue of Education Next online at www.educationnext.org.
Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution, committed to looking at hard facts about school reform. The editors of Education Next are Paul E. Peterson, professor of government, Harvard University, and senior fellow, Hoover Institution; Chester E. Finn Jr., president, Fordham Foundation, and senior fellow, Hoover Institution; Marci Kanstoroom, education consultant; Frederick M. Hess, senior fellow, American Enterprise Institute; and Martin West, research associate, Harvard University.
The Hoover Institution, founded at Stanford University in 1919 by Herbert Hoover, who went on to become the 31st president of the United States, is an interdisciplinary research center for advanced study on domestic public policy and international affairs, with an internationally renowned archive.