Academic journal article Education Next

NEA Sues over NCLB: The Bucks Are Big, but the Case Is Weak

Academic journal article Education Next

NEA Sues over NCLB: The Bucks Are Big, but the Case Is Weak

Article excerpt

Last April, in a move that generated many headlines but surprised almost no one, the National Education Association (NEA) and nine school districts filed a lawsuit against Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, claiming that federal funding to meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was inadequate. Although the claim of "unfunded mandate" has been asserted almost since the day NCLB was signed into law, School District of the City of Pontiac et al. v. Spellings constitutes the first major legal challenge to the historic education law to be filed in federal court. If the suit succeeds, the Department of Education (DOE) will be asked to stop enforcing NCLB regulations until sufficient federal funds are provided.

The federal law does have language stating, "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to ... mandate a state or any subdivision thereof to ... incur any costs not paid for under this Act." While that seems clear enough, isn't the mandate to teach all children what schools are supposed to do anyway? Or could Pontiac v. Spellings be the ultimate adequacy case, resulting in court-ordered multibillions of dollars? Although many school districts and union leaders would like to think so, a closer look suggests otherwise.

For one thing, the plaintiffs ignore the fact that any state can escape all regulation simply by refusing the money. If NCLB-induced costs actually surpassed the federal revenue flow, then states could simply refuse the money. Though Utah has made noises about such a move, significantly, no state has yet done so.

Further, the plaintiffs in this lawsuit would have to show a real dispute between the school district and the DOE. To prevent federal courts from premature intervention, plaintiffs are normally required to show that all administrative remedies have been pursued before a lawsuit was filed. In this case, there is no allegation that the DOE has refused a district request for a waiver of NCLB requirements. Without such a showing, the court may well refuse even to consider the case.

The NEA's legal standing is even weaker. Only parties genuinely injured by government action are allowed to bring suit. …

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