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Spellings Asks Full Appeals Court to Reconsider NCLB Ruling

The federal government has filed its request for reconsideration of a federal appeals court ruling that revived a major challenge to the No Child Left Behind Act as an unfunded federal mandate.

Lawyers filed papers on behalf of Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings asking the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, to reconsider last month's decision by a three-judge panel of the court in Pontiac School District v. Spellings.

The secretary had announced late last week that such a request was coming.

The 6th Circuit court panel ruled 2-1 on Jan. 7 that the states were not on clear notice of their potential financial obligations when they agreed to accept federal funding under the No Child Left Behind law. The majority ruled that state and local officials could “reasonably read” the law’s unfunded-mandate provision to conclude the federal government would pay for all costs associated with complying with the law.

In its request for review of that ruling, the Bush administration says "the ramifications of the decision are immediate and irreparable, and they extend for the indefinite future."

The court papers cite an Education Week story in which Robert H. Chanin, the general counsel of the National Education Association, argued after the panel ruling that school districts would be on solid legal ground in refusing to use their own funds to comply with NCLB requirements not covered by federal funds.

"The risk of noncompliance is manifest," the government's papers say. "Because school districts have considerable discretion in determining how to spend federal funds, the panel decision allows them to redirect their resources and then claim that any noncompliance with the NCLB was caused by a lack of federal funds."

The 3.2 million member-NEA is behind the lawsuit challenging the NCLB law. The suit was filed in 2005 in U.S. District Court in Detroit on behalf of some of its state affiliates and nine school districts in Michigan, Texas, and Vermont.

The plaintiffs in the case will have a chance to respond to the Bush administration's filing, and then it will be up to the discretion of the full 6th Circuit court as to whether the case will be re-examined.

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