Inside: Washington

THE COSTS OF NCLB

The National Education Association has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education to force the federal government to pay the costs of its rules and regulations under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.

The teachers' association contends that the federal government has failed to live up to language in the law, which says that states or local districts won't have to pay any costs of carrying out the provisions of the law.

“Congress never has come close to appropriating even the funding authorization levels established for the NCLB, much less the amounts required to fully fund the NCLB,” the lawsuit says.

Since the law's enactment in 2002, the NEA says, there has been a $27 billion funding shortfall in what Congress was supposed to provide schools to meet the law's regulations and what has been funded.

School districts in Vermont, Michigan and Texas, and teachers' associations in Texas, Utah, Vermont, New Hampshire, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, are named plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

A spokesman for U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings called the NEA's action regrettable. The administration argues that the law is appropriately funded and says it has raised federal education funding to historically high levels.

E-RATE OVERSIGHT

A federal report says the federal government needs to improve its oversight of the E-rate program, which has provided billions of dollars in subsidies to schools for technology infrastructure improvements.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Federal Communications Commission's lax oversight of the $2.25-billion-a-year program weakened “its ability to understand the scope of any waste, fraud, and abuse within the program.” Some companies that have received E-rate funds have been accused of defrauding the program.

“Although $13 billion in E-rate funding has been committed during the past seven years, the FCC did not develop performance goals and measures that could be used to assess the specific impact of these funds and improve the management of the program,” the GAO says.

Better performance goals would allow the FCC to have a clearer picture of whether the E-rate has been effective in enhancing schools' connectivity to the Internet.

The GAO recommends that the FCC conduct a comprehensive assessment to determine whether all necessary government accountability requirements are in place to protect the E-rate program. The report also suggests that the FCC establish meaningful performance goals and measures for the E-rate program.

QZAB EXTENSION

President Bush has proposed a two-year extension of the Qualified Zone Academy Bond (QZAB) program to help schools in low-income areas pay for renovations and repairs.

The program enables schools to carry out building upgrades more affordably by relieving schools of interest costs on the bonds issued. The federal government covers the interest costs by providing tax credits to the holders of the bonds.

In its 2006 budget proposal, the administration seeks the authority to issue $400 million a year in bonds for 2006 and 2007.

To be eligible for the bonds, a school must have at least 35 percent of its students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches under the federal lunch program, or be in an area designated by the federal government as an Empowerment Zone or Enterprise Community.

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