Monday, January 07, 2008

Funky No Child Left Behind ruling from the Sixth Circuit

In Pontiac School District, et al. v. Secretary of the United States Dep’t of Educ., a a split panel of the Sixth Circuit let some local school boards off the hook from compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The majority opinion begins:

"This case requires us to decide a fundamental question of federal versus state funding under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (“NCLB” or “the Act”), 20 U.S.C. §§ 6301–7941. Plaintiffs-Appellants are school districts and education associations that receive federal funding under NCLB in exchange for complying with the Act’s various educational requirements and accountability measures. Based on the so-called “Unfunded Mandates Provision,” which provides that “[n]othing in this Act shall be construed to . . . mandate a State or any subdivision thereof to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this Act,” 20 U.S.C. § 7907(a), Plaintiffs filed suit in district court against the Secretary of Education seeking, among other relief, a judgment declaring that they need not comply with the Act’s requirements where federal funds do not cover the increased costs of compliance. The district court concluded, however, that Plaintiffs must comply with the Act’s requirements regardless of any federal-funding shortfall and accordingly granted the Secretary’s motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Because statutes enacted under the Spending Clause of the United States Constitution must provide clear notice to the States of their liabilities should they decide to accept federal funding under those statutes, and because we conclude that NCLB fails to provide clear notice as to who bears the additional costs of compliance, we REVERSE the judgment of the district court and REMAND this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

The dissent says the rulings lets the local schools boards have their federal money without complying with the strings attached to it, and that's wrong.

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