SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- One of state's harshest critics of the federal No Child Left Behind act on Wednesday announced she would introduce a bill directing state agencies to ignore the federal standards when they conflict with those set out by the state.
The proposal from Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, is just the latest attempt to avoid complying with the standards, which are tied to federal Title I funding. Critics argue President Bush's proposal amounts to an unfunded mandate that infringes on states' rights to control their own education standards -- and would cost more to implement than states receive in the first place.
Dayton introduced a bill in the last legislative session to opt out of the requirements and forgo entirely the more than $100 million in federal money for Utah linked to them. The prospect of losing the money concerned some in a state with already poor rates of per-pupil funding, and the measure couldn't pass the Senate.
Dayton says the new proposal is a good-faith effort to follow the federal guidelines that will allow the state to keep getting the money without spending millions to bring itself into compliance. Besides, she argued, the Utah standards are more stringent in some regards than the national ones -- and would still guarantee a quality education system.
"We are all aware that Utah can't afford all the requirements of No Child Left Behind," Dayton said.
Under the plan, she said, Utah will follow the "spirit of the law," but set federal regulations aside when they conflict with state standards.
Still, it's unclear whether federal administrators parsing out the money would go for the idea. They have suggested that states can't pick and choose what to comply with, and any noncompliance would sever the funding pipeline.
Instead of using No Child Left Behind to quantify school progress, Dayton's plan would use the U-PASS tests devised by the Legislature in 2000. Most tests are intended to show whether students are learning Utah's core curriculum, which sets basic requirements in each subject area.
The two tests have similarities, but also differ in fundamental ways. For example, No Child requires that at least 95 percent of a school's students be tested, and bars a school from passing if too many are absent on test day. U-PASS carries no such caveat.
The federal standards also more stringently define qualifications for teachers. Under those laws, an instructor must have majored in the subject he or she intends to teach. Utah law allows someone with a minor or equivalent certification to teach.
"NCLB seems to focus on failure and threat, and what happens if you do not perform," said Ray Timothy, associate superintendent of law at the Utah State Office of Education.
No Child Left Behind is the centerpiece of Bush's education policy. It requires all students, regardless of background, to perform well on state reading and math tests. The goal is to have all students proficient in math and reading by 2014. How much that will cost is unknown.
Low-income schools receiving Title I dollars face federal sanctions if they fail standards two years in a row.
Several states have bristled at the requirements, and Dayton said she wouldn't be surprised if others tried to use their own standards and ignore those handed down by the federal government.
The state Board of Education has already come out behind the plan.
Dayton said federal officials have given states some flexibility in implementing No Child rules, giving her confidence that they'll OK her plan for Utah.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)