Is another federal-state clash over No Child Left Behind brewing?

Federal education officials, as was the case a year ago, are expected to visit — either in person or by telephone — Utah's Capitol Hill this week and have asked that two lawmakers hold off on debating No Child Left Behind bills until they arrive, House Speaker Greg Curtis has confirmed.

Ron Fox, who has done work for the White House, called Curtis to facilitate the contact for the federal the government.

"I'm trying to bring parties together," he said. "Federal officials wanted to speak to the issue of No Child Left Behind — (I told Curtis) they would be in contact," perhaps either through a phone call or face-to-face visit.

Curtis said a federal liaison called early last week inquiring about the bills — HB135, sponsored by Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, and HJR3, sponsored by Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville — both of which would have NCLB play second fiddle to Utah educational goals when it comes to focus and resources. He said the liaison indicated federal education officials would come here this week.

"If I in any way thought it was an attempt to kill the bills, I'd say, 'No

way,' " Curtis said. "It's a matter of courtesy" to hold debate on the bills, both of which sailed through committee but are down a ways on the House calendar, and might not be up for debate until midweek anyway.

But Dayton is "totally affronted."

"(This is) an issue on federal intrusion, and they want to intrude on the process," she said. "I'm willing to talk to them and do what's best for Utah, but I'm not willing to put my bill on hold right now."

The U.S. Department of Education's public affairs office did not return a call seeking comment.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Education last year paid Dayton a visit on her No Child Left Behind opt-out bill, which stood to cost the state $106 million in federal funding.

Dayton pulled the bill for interim study.

Now she is sponsoring HB135, which would give state education goals and the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students (U-PASS) priority over NCLB, particularly in terms of spending state dollars and deciding what's best for children.

The bill also directs Utah's school chiefs to lobby for NCLB changes and study whether the federal law requires Utah to change its curriculum or invest its own money.

It was uncertain whether the prioritization would affect federal money coming to Utah, the bill's fiscal note states.

The bill underscores Dayton's view of NCLB as an intrusion on state and local school districts' rights to oversee public education. It is backed by state education officials and groups as diverse as the Utah Education Association and the conservative Eagle Forum.

HJR3 would have Utah use U-PASS, which fulfills the spirit of NCLB, until the federal law is amended and adequately funded.

"Obviously, (the federal government is) interested in what we're doing . . . we're making the noise, we're the squeaky wheel," Holdaway said. "We've been on the forefront of this whole states' rights battle. We feel this is an issue of federalism in its purest form."

Dayton has placed daily fliers on lawmakers' desks titled "Another Concern with No Child Left Behind," with passages submitted by Utah GOP Congressman Rob Bishop, R-Utah. Future installments are planned, from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington, State Board of Education chairman Kim Burningham, a Jordan District teacher and other officials.

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The idea is to better inform colleagues about NCLB's intricacies, Dayton said.

NCLB aims to have all children read and do math on grade level by 2014. People praise the noble goal, but don't like the one-size-fits-all approach for special education students, or the way the law labels schools.

They prefer U-PASS, which they say focuses on individual student growth and state education goals. The state has asked that U-PASS be used to meet NCLB requirements, but Harrington has said federal approval could be a "long shot."


E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com