Utah Schools Superintendent To Meet With Education Secretary

Utah Schools Superintendent To Meet With Education Secretary

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah's superintendent of public schools, Patti Harrington, is taking the state's beef with the federal No Child Left Behind law to Washington, D.C.

Harrington will meet with U.S. Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings on Tuesday. It will be the first time the two have met, Harrington said.

Utah has requested six waivers from the requirements of the federal law but has received little relief, although the department has granted some flexibility in testing of special education students.

Negotiations between federal and state officials have been at a stalemate since April, when Utah lawmakers enacted legislation to use state education assessment standards ahead of those set out in federal law.

Just ahead of the vote, federal officials threatened to yank $76 million in federal education money from Utah, but haven't yet held up the funds.

In an update to the Legislature's Education Interim Committee Wednesday, Harrington expressed hope that when they meet, she and Spellings "might see some common ground."

Both Harrington and Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, who for two years has led Utah's rebellion against NCLB, also thanked Utah's Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, who has been working on the issues from Washington D.C. and helped arrange the meeting between Harrington and Spellings.

"I'm convinced that it's the congressional intervention that is finally getting their attention," Dayton said.

Utah is far from alone in its objection to the federal law. This year alone, 20 states, including Utah, took legislative action against the federal law this year and numerous lawsuits have been filed. Utah's largest teachers' union is party to one of those lawsuits.

So far, only Texas, Minnesota and Georgia have been penalized financially by the federal government for their failures to comply with NCLB.

Harrington said after the meeting that she thinks the federal department of education may be softening in its stance with states. In the past month there's been greater outreach from the department than seen in the two previous years, she said.

"I think that (Spellings) is even willing to meet with me is an indication that they desire flexibility," Harrington said. "The call across the land is so strong, I think they have to do it to survive."

Recent progress reports show 87 percent of Utah schools are meeting progress and achievement requirements of NCLB. The federal law holds schools accountable by tracking standardized test scores by race, ethnicity and other factors. The goal is 100 percent proficiency in languages arts and math by 2014.

Thirteen percent of Utah's schools failed to make progress last year. Of those, 13 face sanctions because they failed to make progress in multiple years.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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