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District Court Rules Against Connecticut on NCLB Suit

A federal district judge has ruled against the state of Connecticut in its lawsuit against U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings over the administration of the No Child Left Behind Act.

U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz of New Haven, Conn., issued a decision Monday rejecting the last of the state's claims. The judge had dismissed other claims in the suit in 2006.

Judge Kravitz turned away Connecticut's efforts to have the federal court overturn Secretary Spellings' administrative decision turning down the state's request seeking greater flexibility in testing students in special education and English-language learners under the law. The judge said the secretary's actions were not arbitrary or capricious.

On a key issue that has been raised in another legal challenge to the NCLB law, Judge Kravitz declined to rule on the state's arguments that the secretary was enforcing the federal education law in a way that violates a provision of the law that bars the federal government from imposing "unfunded mandates" on the states.

"The court has no doubt that the very important issue of the proper interpretation of the unfunded-mandates provision is not before this court," Judge Kravitz said in his opinion, because Connecticut had not properly raised the issue during the secretarys' review of its NCLB plan.

"Though Connecticut provided estimates of what it would cost to modify and implement assessment policies and accommodations for LEP students and to develop alternate assessments for students with disabilities, nowhere did it state that the federal funding was insufficient to cover those costs," the judge said. "Instead, the State sought to justify its requests on the basis of reasons other than cost."

The judge said the state is free to raise the unfunded-mandates issue in the next round of administrative decisions before the secretary. That would put off any legal decision on the issue for many months, if not years.

My Education Week colleague David Hoff writes about the ruling here in his NCLB: Act II blog, including a statement from the U.S. Department of Education that the decision is a "resounding victory for children and families."

The Associated Press reports on the ruling here. This updated AP story on the site of the Hartford Courant quotes a statement by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal that he intends to appeal the decision.

The other big NCLB ruling I alluded to above was the Jan. 7. decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, that the states were not on clear notice of their financial obligations when they agreed to accept federal funds under the law. Secretary Spellings' request seeking a rehearing before the full 6th Circuit court is pending.

Education Week reported on the 6th Circuit decision here, and in this story that discussed the possible impact on the Connecticut case.

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