On The Record: Vermont Gov. Howard Dean
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
Under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), every state receiving federal school aid which amounts to about seven percent of total public school funding -- must test each student in grades 3-8 in reading and math.
Vermont has already developed and implemented its own testing system, but the federal law would require scrapping it.
Among other changes, the state would have to invest in a computer system that can crunch test data to meet Washington's standards. Dean is also troubled by a provision calling for school prayer and student information requirements that he feels endanger privacy.
Every member of Vermont's Congressional delegation voted against the bill.
Dean, a Democrat mulling a run for President in 2004, was interviewed by telephone.
STATELINE.ORG: What are your main concerns about the federal education law?
Dean: There are two big concerns. One is that the federal government is taking over much of the function of local schools with no money to pay for it, creating another huge unfunded mandate. (In Vermont) we already have our testing process in place and ours is one of the best in country. But (under this law) one third of Vermont's schools would be failing (according to the federal government.)
The second piece is that many of the states in the North and along the Canadian border, from Maine to Washington, including the Midwest states, already have very advanced testing systems. This (the federal requirement) is an inferior testing system and again, it requires the local people to pay for it.
STATELINE.ORG: Have other states expressed similar concerns?
Dean: Many of them have. The chief state school officers are talking together.
STATELINE.ORG: Could you speak more about the additional costs to the state taxpayers?
Dean: The school testing and the scoring system will result in a high number of schools in every state being categorized as nonperforming schools. Local school districts will have to pick up the tab for a lot of compensatory programs and that comes out of their education money and that is very, very, expensive. For example (failing school districts will have to offer) automatic school choice and an enormous number of remediation programs that will have to be paid for by the local schools.
(Dean told Vermont's Rutland Herald newspaper that he expects "enormous" increases in property taxes to pay for the new requirements.)
STATELINE.ORG: As you know, full-federal funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) did not make it into ESEA. Has this complicated the ability for taxpayers to fiscally support the new education initiatives?
Dean: I don't' have any doubt when taxpayers find out about this (federal school aid bill) they aren't going to support it. It costs a lot of money to get out (of the federal program) but it may cost us (Vermont) even more to stay in.
STATELINE.ORG: So, are the new rules causing states to do a cost-benefit analysis?
Dean: Right, and more and more states will do it.
STATELINE.ORG: Education has traditionally been handled at the local and state levels, how do you think localities will respond to this new federal role?
Dean: School Boards are going to be furious when they find out that they will be required to send the names of all their seniors (12th grade students) directly to higher education institutions or directly to the military or be penalized; and when they find out there will be a penalty if they don't allow constitutionally mandated prayer.
I'm not opposed to testing Vermont already has it. But this (3-8 testing) is another bureaucratic response so that President Bush can take credit for education.
If we stay in (accept the ESEA funding and rules) we will have to dumb down our standards (learning goals) so that we don't have to pay a huge financial penalty, and that is the opposite result of what I think Washington was hoping for.