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ANCHORAGE - Alaska teachers want the state to ignore the demands of the federal No Child Left Behind law and consequently give up millions of dollars in funding.
At their annual gathering in Anchorage over the weekend, educators voted to send their message to the state.
The meeting of the National Education Association's Alaska chapter was closed to the public. But educators who were there say the vote, for some, was a philosophical opposition to the law. For others, it sprang from frustrations with the demanding law and what some teachers consider to be inadequate funding.
"Basically it broadened the question, the whole notion, of whether going through the No Child Left Behind hoops was worth it for the state," union president Rich Kronberg told the Anchorage Daily News. "The organization's opinion is they would rather not have the funding and not have to deal with the mandates."
The education reform law requires additional standardized tests and demands annual student improvement on those exams, as well as tougher teacher qualifications. Public school districts have found that meeting the requirements is expensive and time-consuming. It often means hiring more staff members or starting new programs to help students make progress.
Failing to show improvement packs consequences in schools classified as Title 1, where 50 percent or more of students qualify for the federal free and reduced-price meals program. Those schools also receive federal Title 1 funding to hire people like teacher aides, counselors and tutors.
A handful of districts in other states, including Vermont and Connecticut, have decided the federal money isn't worth the hassle of meeting the No Child Left Behind standards. Some districts there have chosen to ignore the law. Vermont, Utah and Hawaii are contemplating giving up their state allotments.
"It's very tempting," said Carol Comeau, superintendent of the Anchorage School District.
But it's hard to turn away any money, she said. The Anchorage School Board just last week approved cutting $26.2 million from its 2004-05 school year budget. The district expects at least a $20 million deficit next year.
"As much as I am frustrated with No Child Left Behind and the lack of appropriate adequate funding, I could not recommend eliminating all federal funding from the state of Alaska and certainly (not) from the Anchorage School District," Comeau said. "Those funds are critical."
It's unclear how much would be lost. The U.S. Department of Education hasn't detailed which funds would be in jeopardy if a district or state declined to comply with the law.
Alaska public schools last year received about $180 million in federal funds, and Anchorage schools received about $38 million of that.