Superintendent criticizes federal education act

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(Host) A new study says Vermont schools and taxpayers would be better off if the state rejected the money associated with the new federal education law. The study says the federal government won’t cover the full cost of meeting the law’s new mandates.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Governor Howard Dean earlier this year asked local school officials if Vermont should accept the money and the mandates in the new education law. Dean was worried that the law would impose costly burdens on the state. A financial analysis by school superintendent William Mathis seems to substantiate Dean’s concerns.

Mathis, who’s superintendent of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, estimates there’s more than a $100 million shortfall between what the law will cost, and what the federal government provides in total education funds:

(Mathis) “As a matter of sheer economics and as a matter of educational policy, it doesn’t make sense. There is no scholar, there is no responsible scholar, who can say that this system can possible work.”

(Dillon) The education reform law is known as the “No Child Left Behind” Act. Under the law, if Vermont accepts federal education funds, it has to follow the mandates of the new law. Those requirements include testing students in thrid through eighth grades to see if they meet state standards.

Mathis says that Vermont student performance is quite high, relative to other states. But since the state’s standards are high, about 46% of students here ranked below standard on one of the tests used last year.

So Mathis says the state would be faced with a paradox: its students do well compared to other states. Yet many of many of the state’s schools could be considered as failures under the new law. He says Vermont should reject the federal funds.

(Mathis) “For Vermont to do it, we would either have to roll our standards downward. And I can’t think of many people who would be advocating for lower education standards. But ours are high and we would have to put our standards down, or we would have to come up with a very significant increase in money.”

(Dillon) The Bush administration defends the law as an unprecedented investment in local education. The U.S. Education Department says the mandates are needed to make sure schools improve.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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