January 31, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
Connecticut's lawsuit against President
Bush's school reform act could harm low-income and minority schoolchildren,
wastes money and threatens to undermine other civil rights laws,
the state NAACP said Monday.
The organization filed a motion Monday
to intervene on the side of the U.S. Department of Education, which
is scheduled to argue in a New Haven federal court today to dismiss
Connecticut's challenge to the No Child Left Behind Act.
The decision to back the Bush administration's
controversial school reform law "was very unorthodox for the
NAACP," said Scot X. Esdaile, president of the state chapter,
but he said Connecticut's opposition to the federal law amounts
to an excuse to avoid helping minority schoolchildren.
State officials, he said, "are
looking for loopholes, looking for ways to get out of what they
need to do."
The disagreement reflects a national
debate over the most sweeping federal education law in a generation.
The law calls for a broad expansion of testing and a shake-up of
schools that fail to make sufficient progress with all students,
including low-income children, special education students and members
of minority groups.
A key goal of No Child Left Behind
is to close the achievement gap that finds many low-income and minority
children lagging academically behind white and middle-class children.
More than two-thirds of the state's
school boards have lined up behind the state's lawsuit, which was
filed by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal last summer against
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. Blumenthal called
the law an unfunded mandate, contending it will unfairly cost state
and local taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
But some civil rights advocates say
the law has focused long overdue attention on low-income and minority
"We believe minority children
in Connecticut deserve a voice at the table in this litigation,"
said John C. Brittain, a former Connecticut lawyer and now chief
counsel for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in
Washington, D.C., one of the groups backing the NAACP's intervention.
Brittain was one of the lawyers in
the long-running Sheff vs. O'Neill school desegregation case, which
resulted in a state Supreme Court ruling ordering Connecticut to
reduce the level of racial and economic segregation in Hartford's
With Connecticut's low-income and minority
children facing some of the largest achievement gaps in the nation,
the lawsuit against No Child Left Behind is ill-advised, he said.
"We certainly think it's a waste
of time and resources," Brittain said. He said the state's
contention that it should not have to follow provisions of the law
because of inadequate funding could set a dangerous precedent for
other civil rights laws. "The 1964 Civil Rights Act was an
unfunded mandate," he said.
The U.S. Department of Education contends
the state has accepted more than $750 million since 2002 based on
its pledge to comply with the law but now is seeking "to keep
the funds while jettisoning the accompanying obligations."
Blumenthal issued a statement
Monday saying, "I regret that the NAACP and my office are on
different legal sides when we share the basic goals of No Child
Left Behind." He said the state believes in imposing accountability
and improving achievement for all children, "but the federal
failure to properly implement and support [those goals] betrays
our children and their education."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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