Schools report heavy cost of federal No Child Left Behind program

School district officials estimate the federal No Child Left Behind education legislation will cost them more than $180 million over the next two years.

The report was in sharp disagreement with statements by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., when he spoke to the 2003 Legislature a month ago, saying the money to implement the federal mandates is in the bill.

But it matches the opinion of Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who described the legislation as one of the biggest unfunded mandates ever imposed on the states by the federal government.

The issue came up during the Senate Finance Committee's hearing into SB191, which was drafted to implement the requirements of the federal law.

Chairman Bill Raggio, R-Reno, cautioned those in attendance that the requirements are already a matter of federal law.

"So it's not going to do any good to argue with the requirements," he said. "If you want to come up and argue whether (the legislation) should have been passed, it's too late."

Deputy State Superintendent of Education Keith Rheault said he expects the costs to be relatively small at the state level.

"The big implications are at the local districts in implementing all the requirements," he told the Senate Finance Committee.

The bulk of the cost is from Clark and Washoe counties -- $144.8 million and $25.6 million respectively. Carson school officials estimated it will cost them $152,300 over the coming two-year budget cycle. Churchill County officials estimate costs at $500,000 for the biennium and Douglas school district estimates it will spend $179,454.

Most of the districts said those costs would be ongoing.

Al Bellister of the Nevada State Education Association said the funding will have to come out of existing education budgets if another source isn't found.

That, he said, means cutting from teacher salaries, school supplies and other operating costs.

"There's just not enough funding behind the bill," he said.

Raggio said before he accepts those numbers he wants Rheault and his staff, as well as legislative fiscal analysts, to review the estimates.

"These fiscal notes are all over the place from the school districts," he said.

Rheault agreed that there wasn't a consistency to the estimates. He said he would review them carefully before giving lawmakers his estimates.

The federal No Child Left Behind legislation requires states and local school districts set standards for students and test them annually to make sure every student is progressing and learning. It sets out a long list of other requirements, including that teachers be certified to teach the subjects they are actually teaching and that teachers' aides also be certified. And, for the first time, there would be a separate certification required for middle school teachers.

The legislation would penalize districts and states where an excessive number of students don't pass the up to 17 tests each pupil would have to take before graduating high school.

Schools that don't measure up would face sanctions and the stigma of being labeled "in need of improvement," and parents would have the right to demand tutoring and remediation programs. If not, their child would be allowed to transfer to another school, with the district paying to transport the child to the other school.

Bellister described the legislation as "a headlong rush to label our schools as failing" rather than to fix them.


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