State NCLB lawsuit dismissed

A federal appeals court Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit by state officials challenging the cost of a controversial federal school reform law.

The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier ruling dismissing Connecticut’s complaint that the No Child Left Behind Act amounted to an unfunded mandate costing state and local taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

State officials filed the suit in 2005 after the U.S. Department of Education denied requests for waivers of some of the federal law’s requirements, including a broad expansion of tests of reading and mathematics.

U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz, in rulings in 2006 and 2008, dismissed the state’s complaints. The appeals court upheld Kravitz’s ruling that the court did not have jurisdiction over the central issue of unfunded mandates.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he is reviewing Tuesday’s decision and is considering “the next best step to ensure that the federal government fulfills its promise under the law to provide all of our children a fair, equal and quality education.”

Under No Child Left Behind, the state was required to expand its annual Mastery Test to include all children in grades three through eight, roughly doubling the cost of administering the test. Previously, the state had tested children only in grades four, six and eight.

Along with the law, the federal government increased the level of funding to schools, but state officials said the additional money did not fully cover the expanded testing costs. The state’s annual budget for testing nearly 300,000 public school students is $18 million. Connecticut gets $5.7 million under No Child Left Behind for developing and testing children in reading and mathematics. The state also administers a writing test, which is not required by federal law.

Tuesday’s court ruling “ends a chapter in the ongoing story of No Child Left Behind,” said Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the State Department of Education. “It’s fitting that this is probably the last year of NCLB.”

Congress is considering significant changes in the federal law as it prepares to reauthorize the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Murphy said.

The No Child Left Behind Act, the centerpiece of President Bush’s school reform agenda, was signed into law in 2002, calling for a shakeup of schools that failed to make adequate progress for all groups of students, including low-income children, members of racial minority groups, non-English speaking children and students with disabilities.

The state chapter of the NAACP backed the legal case against Connecticut, joining the U.S. Department of Education as a co-defendant on behalf of minority parents and students.