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States, local governments plead for new "No Child Left Behind"

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - State and local officials again called on Congress to pass renewed "No Child Left Behind" education legislation, writing in a letter on Tuesday that it must become "a top priority for every member of the House and Senate."

Nearly a year ago - on February 6, 2012 - the same groups, including the National Governors Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National School Boards Association, made a similar plea to re-authorize the federal education funding law.

No Child Left Behind tied funding to students' performance on standardized tests, and penalized schools for "failing" - measures that educators and lawmakers, including current Education Secretary Arne Duncan, have said were too restrictive.

The law nominally expired five years ago and states have operated under funding extensions, as well as President Barack Obama's smaller grants such as "Race to the Top."

In late 2011 Obama also offered states waivers to some parts of No Child Left Behind, as long as they followed his requirements on college preparation, testing and boosting graduation rates.

"Waivers will work for some states but will not work for all," the groups wrote on Tuesday to members of both houses. "Moreover, waivers only provide temporary relief from specific provisions of the law and in exchange require new criteria of states, school districts and schools."

State and local governments receive about 10 percent of their education funds from the federal government but public schools take up huge chunks of their budgets.

The 2007-09 recession drove down their revenues, particularly the property taxes that cities and school districts use for the bulk of education funding. The 2009 federal economic stimulus plan provided extra money for education, most of which was distributed by the end of 2010 and for two years, they have had to patch together funding.

"As we struggle to reallocate scarce federal resources and face economic uncertainty, we need greater federal funding flexibility," the groups said.

Democrats in the House of Representatives blasted a proposal from Republicans last month on legislation to renew the law, with the head of the Education Committee, George Miller, saying it "abandons students, parents, and taxpayers," and "undermines programs for our most vulnerable students."

(Reporting By Lisa Lambert; Editing by Bill Trott)

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