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'No Child' law should spur students' success

November 26, 2002

Instead of preparing for Christmas, some West Virginia officials will be preparing a brief for Special Judge Arthur Recht, now seeking to settle a lawsuit that's dragged on for 27 years. State officials need to give the judge a reason to smile when he opens their package.

The suit was filed in 1975 on behalf of a Lincoln County woman who didn't feel her children were being adequately educated. Judge Recht has handled the case since then. He gave the state what seemed to be a huge break last year, saying the state could focus on student achievement rather than on the amount of money spent.

But when the legislature provided only $2.5 million of the $43 million increase sought by the state superintendent of schools, Recht called lawmakers' actions a sham.

Now the judge has concluded three days of hearings, which revealed that over the years the school system has been a victim of legislative budget-cutters. Then the judge asked the state to answer five questions by Dec. 23.

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Is it time, Recht asked, to overturn previous court rulings that declare that education is the state's No. 2 budget priority behind paying public debt? And is it time to re-think how all state officials handle educational matters?

In addition, the judge asked how Superintendent David Stewart's call for $43 million in new money can be reconciled with Stewart's statement that he'll accept the legislature's pledge to provide $2 million in new aid each year between 2005 and 2015.

Finally, the judge asked what would happen if he ordered the legislature to cough up the $43 million and under what circumstances he should give up jurisdiction in the case.

Complicated questions, to be sure, but the answers need not be. Improved student achievement is mandated under the federal "No Child Left Behind" law and hitting its targets will not be optional. Lawmakers can make the credible argument that what's imposed by that law will cure what ails the state system.

It's a shame that withy mopre than 25 yewars to do it, the state couldn't solve this issue. But now the budgetary power of the federal government will focus the legislature in a way that no single judge ever could.

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