2003-01-11 / Editorial/Opinion

Unfunded Mandates May Leave Children Behind

Unfunded Mandates May Leave Children Behind

We have often written in this space about unfounded mandates. Both the federal and state governments love them. Some regulatory agency passes a rule and sets a mandate but does not provide the money to make that mandate a reality. Special Education is a mega-sized unfounded mandate, as is Bilingual Education. The feds and the state set the rules and then expect the city to pay to implement those rules. Now, we have the "No Child Left Behind Act." The act requires new testing at all grade levels; disaggregating test results by sex, race, gender, etc.; that all teachers be certified; that students in "failing schools" have access to those that are not failing, that parents get better information about their child’s school; and that future federal funding would be tied to improved results in the new, required testing. Those are all positive aspects of education. They are also expensive. Under the act, billions of federal dollars were supposed to be allocated this past September. Congress has failed to approve any of the increased funding, however. Congress is, in effect, telling the city, "we make the rules, you pay the freight." Requiring that children be allowed to move from "failing schools" to "successful schools" is only one example. First of all, it assumes that anybody knows what a failing school is and what a successful school is, except as defined by the student’s test scores, attendance, etc. It also assumes that a failing student will do better at a successful school than at a failing school. Anybody who has been in the education field for any length of time knows that both of those assumptions are false. It also forces overcrowding conditions in "successful" schools, because students must be accepted regardless of whether there is room at that school or not. Just last week, we wrote about the overcrowding of Beach Channel High School with more than 700 students who opted out of Far Rockaway High School (a "failing" school). PS 114 faces much the same problems and they will be even more exacerbated next year when more parents find out about the option to move. Congressman Anthony Wiener figures that it will cost the city upwards of $755 million to make the program work. Where will a city in the midst of a fiscal crisis find that money? The feds do not seem to care. With the feds, as with the state, setting an unfounded mandate is often the name of the game.

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