The National Education Association, along with several of its state affiliates and 9 school districts, filed a first-ever lawsuit today over the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The suit against Education Secretary Margaret Spellings alleges that because Congress appropriated fewer dollars for the law than it had authorized, it violated a constitutional clause against unfunded mandates.
Federal spending for K-12 education increased by 40 percent in the first 3 years after NCLB was signed into law. Despite predictable pleas for even more money, the record shows federal aid is not scarce.
As part of its systematic campaign to sabotage NCLB accountability for educational results, the NEA tried for two years to find states to join it in suing the federal government for more NCLB billions. It found no takers. But now it has convinced nine of the 14,000 school districts in the U.S. to sign on as plaintiffs.
States returned to the U.S. Treasury more than $190 million in federal education funds they failed to spend over the past two years. Moreover, audits confirm the existence of more than $6 billion in unspent federal education dollars dating back to the Clinton Administration that the states still could tap to help pay for No Child Left Behind (NCLB) or other federally aided programs.
Nevertheless, the leaders of the National Education Association, the 2.7-million-member teachers union, profess to believe that a woeful shortage of taxpayer money justifies a federal lawsuit to force the Bush Administration to ante up at least $27 billion more for NCLB. If successful, the suit filed today in a U.S. District Court in Michigan would constitute a raid on the public treasury and would open the door for every special interest in America to join in the money grab every time appropriations levels fell below authorizations.
The NEA’s suit treats this difference as scandalous. However, that claim ignores the reality that Congress historically has authorized far greater, pie-in-the-sky amounts for large social programs than its money committees later have been able to appropriate when many competing national interests must be weighed against each other. That was also true for the pre-NCLB version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: the Goals 2000: Educate America Act championed by President Clinton. The NEA did not sue its Clinton allies. But that law did not tie federal funding to demonstrating improved student achievement.
If the NEA were of a mind to do so, it could join a conservative state like Utah in challenging NCLB as a wrongful intrusion on states’ rights to run their own school systems. However, in truth the NEA long has been an advocate of a far greater federal role in education. It’s just that the NEA’s ideal is a federal government that pumps out aid by the billions but demands no proof that children are being taught to read and to do math.
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