- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004


The nation’s largest union boldly pledged a year ago to rally states to sue the Bush administration over education spending under the No Child Left Behind law.

It turns out that the National Education Association has been the one left behind.

At least 30 state legislatures, including some led by Republicans, have expressed their displeasure over the law. Not one state, however, has agreed to join the lawsuit the teachers union announced one year ago and planned to file by last summer.

“Maintaining a good relationship with the federal government that oversees your programs and suing them at the same time makes it a very difficult proposition,” said Patty Sullivan, deputy executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

“You have to be pretty certain that you’re going to win, because you really will jeopardize your ability to get other things. You have to think through the politics of that,” she said.

The threatened challenge, which would have been the most direct shot at the heart of President Bush’s domestic agenda, is not dead, the union says. A few school districts have agreed to participate, and the union is weighing when to go on if no state joins the fight.

The 2.7-million-member NEA begins its annual meeting this week in Washington, when it expects to endorse Democratic Sen. John Kerry for president and raise perhaps $1 million for its political committee.

Union leaders say the primary reason the suit has stalled is that states fear retaliation by the Education Department. Yet participation by states is critical because they would have the strongest standing to sue, the union says.

“It’s difficult to think that in 2004 there is fear of reprisal, intimidation and harassment,” said NEA President Reg Weaver.

Added the group’s general counsel, Bob Chanin: “I would have thought [states] would be jumping at this. We have a solid legal theory. We’re prepared to do all the work. We just want to enlist them, but for a variety of reasons we haven’t been able to push any state over the hump.”

Union leaders could not offer proof of threats against states or name ones that fear retaliation. But they said state and local school officials tell them they fear cuts in discretionary programs or rejection of changes they want in state school plans.

Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey said the claims were “utterly baseless” and that the administration has proved it works closely with state policy-makers.

“We’re pleased the states have chosen to work directly with us rather than through the courts,” she said.

A lawsuit would hinge on a provision of the law that says states and school districts would not have to use their own money to pay for any of the law’s requirements. An ongoing debate has addressed whether the government is paying enough to implement the law.

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