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State's `No Child' Lawsuit Still Alive

A Federal Judge Dismisses 3 Of Connecticut's 4 Complaints Against The Law's Cost, But Leaves Room For The Case To Proceed

September 28, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer

A federal judge Wednesday dismissed much of Connecticut's argument for challenging a controversial U.S. government school reform law but left open one avenue for the state's lawsuit to continue.

U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz dismissed three of the four counts in Connecticut's complaint that the 4-year-old No Child Left Behind Act unfairly costs state and local taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

While Wednesday's ruling in New Haven does not address the merits of the arguments made by the two sides, it sharply limits the scope of the federal court's jurisdiction on technical grounds.

A key portion of the ruling is that the court does not have jurisdiction over U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings' denial of Connecticut's request to waive parts of the law. Spellings denied the state's request to waive a requirement to test all students in grades 3 through 8. The state's previous testing program was limited to grades 4, 6 and 8.

However, Kravitz also ruled that the court will be able to review a fourth count in the state's argument - an allegation that Spellings violated administrative procedures and acted arbitrarily in rejecting amendments sought by Connecticut with regard to the testing of some groups of children, including those who speak little or no English.

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said that leaves open the opportunity to pursue the state's central argument that the No Child Left Behind law promises adequate funding but has failed to provide it.

"The denial of those amendments, we say, was wrong because the secretary misinterpreted the unfunded mandates provision" of the law, he said.

The state's lawsuit challenges the cost - but not the substance - of the law, the centerpiece of President Bush's education agenda. The law calls for a broad expansion of testing and a shake-up of schools that fail to make adequate academic progress for all groups of students, including low-income children, members of racial minorities, non-English-speaking children and students with disabilities.

Both sides put a positive spin on Wednesday's split ruling.

"Our case ... is alive and well," Blumenthal said in a hastily called press conference late Wednesday afternoon.

He said the state plans to appeal the dismissal of the three counts.

"We believe as strongly as ever this fight is about resources necessary to educate our children and hold the United States government accountable to its promise," said Blumenthal, who filed the lawsuit a year ago.

Katherine McLane, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, said the department is pleased that the judge dismissed three of Connecticut's claims.

"The goal of No Child Left Behind is nothing more than what parents deserve and are demanding - that their children read and do math at grade level," she said. "Importantly, the judge agreed that the secretary has discretion to deny a waiver request and that her decision is not reviewable by a court. The remaining issues in this case have been reserved for another day."

In dismissing portions of the state's complaint, Kravitz said some of the state's requests for judicial review were premature because there had been no actual violation of the law by state officials and, therefore, no federal enforcement action on which to rule.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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