Education Gadfly examines the question: Is No Child Left Behind an unfunded mandate?
In fact, the true “mandate” parts of NCLB are relatively inexpensive. They involve such things as giving tests, analyzing and reporting data, and undertaking certain interventions (chosen from an extensive menu) in failing schools. Many, if not all of those expenses are covered by additional ESEA money appropriated in the aftermath of NCLB and boosted in the President’s new budget. Yet student achievement per se is not “mandated.” It’s highly desirable, all would agree. But it’s not required by federal law and nothing (except embarrassment) befalls a state whose children fail to learn what they ought. Hence boosting pupil achievement cannot legitimately be termed an unfunded mandate. Merely a moral imperative.
See also this Education Next article on the cost of accountability. And this link to a study saying states are making money from NCLB by collecting more in increased federal funds than they’re spending.