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Let unspent Pennsy grants go to fund NCLB activities

March 26, 2004

Pennsylvania's Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell doesn't like the standards imposed by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, especially, he says, because there isn't much federal money available to implement it.

Pennsylvania's Republican congressmen said that the state has millions in federal money it hasn't spent on things like special education.

It may be a fight along party lines, but if the state is holding cash it should be spending on things like special education, that's a problem that should be addressed.

The NCLB Act drew fire this week in Phoenix, where school chiefs from 14 states, including Pennsylvania, asked for permission to use their own yardsticks of student progress.

Under the present system, they said, even schools making "steady and significant improvement" for all groups of students will still be classified as "in need of improvement."

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Those 14 state superintendents want to be allowed to use their own measures of progress.

Criticism of the Rendell administration for not spending about $155 million in federal cash received from 2000 to 2002 came from 12 congressional Republicans who represent the state.

In essence, their letters asks why the state is asking for more money when it hasn't used what it's already received. The U.S. Education Department told The Associated Press that the figure is now closer to $136 million and represents only 5 percent of the federal money Pennsylvania got during those years.

Consider these facts: Every grant comes with restrictions, which means that without a law change, NCLB can't be funded with this cash. And most state agencies hold some money in reserve, as a hedge against the possibility that next year's grant will be late or smaller than last year's amount.

Finally, Rendell wasn't elected until 2002 and it was under his predecessor, a Republican, that this unspent cash was accumulated. Given that both parties' officials share some blame, why not compromise by letting the current administration apply the unspent funds to NCLB compliance? If the congressional representatives back NCLB, they shouldn't oppose measures to make it as effective as possible.

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