Connecticut sues U.S. over education law

White House enforcement called `rigid,' `capricious'

August 23, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Accusing the Bush administration of being "rigid, arbitrary and capricious" in the enforcement of its signature education law, Connecticut sued the federal government yesterday, seeking relief from a requirement that it scrap its testing program in favor of one the state says will not help children but will cost millions of dollars.

The suit, the first by a state to challenge President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, argues that Connecticut is not being adequately reimbursed for the cost of expanding to annual testing from its current schedule of every other year.

Officials said that and other provisions of the law would force Connecticut to spend $50 million in coming years. The law specifically bars the federal government from imposing requirements without financing them.

"No matter how good its goals, and I agree with NCLB's goals, the federal government is not above the law," said Connecticut's attorney general, Richard Blumenthal.

The suit opens a new front in a struggle between the federal government and the many states that have objected to the law, in some cases by passing legislative protests and by defying federal rulings.

Blumenthal, a Democrat, had sought without success to persuade other states to join the suit. Maine officials said yesterday that they are considering a lawsuit.

Blumenthal said other states were reluctant because they had not conducted studies that could prove that the federal law had forced them to spend state money on federal mandates. He said "fear of retaliation by the Bush administration" had also made some states reluctant.

The U.S. Department of Education called the lawsuit "unfortunate" and disputed Connecticut's assertion that Washington has not provided the money to carry out the law's testing requirements, which it defended as reasonable.

Connecticut's legal argument is based on a law - written by Republicans during the Clinton administration - that forbids Washington to require states to spend their money to carry out federal policies.

School districts in three states and the nation's largest teachers union filed a similar suit in April.

The Connecticut suit argues that Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has aggravated the harm to Connecticut by denying the state's requests for flexibility in complying with the law.

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