- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

Education Department Secretary Margaret Spellings had an unannounced private parley Tuesday with Republican Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to block moves by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature to reject the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

At White House insistence, Mr. Huntsman came to Washington with two aides for the meeting after Utah’s legislature ended its session Feb. 28 poised to reject NCLB dictates in favor of Utah state standards for achievement in public schools.

Mr. Huntsman persuaded state Senate leaders to delay action on a unanimously passed state House bill giving primacy to state education requirements and called a special legislative session for April 20 to reconsider the measure.

The administration is working to prevent the potential embarrassment of Republican-dominated Utah becoming the first state to reject federal control of education under NCLB, state and administration officials told The Washington Times.

Mrs. Spellings’ private meeting with Mr. Huntsman was orchestrated “to get him and Utah in line,” an administration official said on the condition of anonymity.

“It was a private meeting between the secretary and the governor with a few staff present,” Susan Aspey, spokesman for the U.S. Education Department said, and “staff will continue the discussion to determine [the] next steps and move forward.”

Officials said the governor and Mrs. Spellings had a frank discussion about the unhappiness of Utah’s Republican legislature over federal top-down control of the state’s public schools under the NCLB. It is tied to a small percentage of federal funding in the name of improving student achievement.

Mr. Huntsman presented a letter to President Bush signed by 20 of Utah’s 29 state Senate members ” all Republicans ” declaring: “The carefully considered belief of the Utah state Senate is that any effective education strategy will respect America’s essential historic balance between centralized power and local right as expressed in the 10th Amendment to our Constitution.”

The 10th Amendment reserves for the states all powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution.

Utah has sought waivers from Washington in six areas under the NCLB, but to date has been granted flexibility only for a requirement for “highly qualified teachers” in elementary schools. The state seeks further flexibility under NCLB requirements regarding special education teachers and disabled and non-English-speaking students.

But state Rep. Margaret Dayton, a Republican, said discussions in Washington will not stop Utah legislators from passing the bill to give priority to state school requirements over NCLB, as a veto-proof majority of both houses has endorsed the measure.

“It is not acceptable for the 6 percent of Utah’s education budget which comes from the federal government to control 100 percent of the state’s education policy,” Mrs. Dayton said.

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