The governing boards of the elementary and high school districts serving Ahwatukee Foothills are pressuring the 110th Congress to amend the No Child Left Behind Act, which is up for renewal this year. The Act, NCLB for short, has drawn criticism from educators from across the country since its initial passage in 2002. Local school boards have decried a lack of federal funds promised to help implement NCLB's provisions and have protested some accountability standards for special education students and English-language learners that educators say are unworkable. Zita Johnson, president of the Tempe Union High School District Governing Board, was one of three local board members to travel to Washington, D.C. in January to attend the National School Boards Association's (NSBA) Federal Relations Network event. They, along with almost 1,000 board members from across the country, lobbied to see NCLB changed. "In the big picture of the No Child Left Behind Act, there are a number of areas I would hope will be addressed," said Johnson, who sent a memo to Congress encouraging the changes. "After spending a few days (in D.C. in January) learning about the Act, most school board members went home with a sense of obligation to continue to try and improve it." The funding criticisms of NCLB are perhaps the most frequently cited weaknesses of the Act: in 2006, the nation's budget provided only $13.3 billion of an authorized $22.75 billion, or 58 percent. This shortfall, Johnson said, directly affects students' learning. "It's really stunning how much individual school districts all over the country spend fulfilling all of (the Act's) unfunded mandates. Those costs come right out of the classroom." In Johnson's letter to Congress she noted, "In the Tempe Union High School District alone, the annual gap between existing federal funding and the actual costs of the services provided to our most at-risk students is $1.8 million." Johnson, who is hoping the grassroots efforts to see NCLB improved this year will inspire the community-at-large to also lobby their representatives, was not alone. The Kyrene School Board, represented in D.C. in January by members Sue Knudson and Rae Waters, also approved a resolution last Tuesday to adopt new legislation amending NCLB. The new legislation, called HR648 and introduced by Rep. Dan Young (D-Alaska), meets NSBA objectives for improvement and has earned the support of many educators in the nation. The main objective of H.R. 648 is to improve accountability measurements of special education students and English-language learners. Issues with that aspect of NCLB has hit home locally, causing Kyrene de las Lomas Elementary to almost be given a failing grade in terms of student improvement, despite a majority of the school's students passing the measurement test. "I think it addresses so many things that will cause great improvements and I think it's a great place to start," Johnson said of H.R. 648. "These efforts to improve No Child Left Behind are very bipartisan, and I think they come from a clear and strong desire to serve the students of our country and help our public schools teach kids to be all that they can be." --Jason Ludwig can be reached at (480) 898-7916 or

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