No Child Left Behind is not an “unfunded mandate,” concludes a General Accounting Office report (pdf). It’s not a mandate. States and localities can refuse to comply, if they’re willing to give federal funds, which make up a small percentage of school funding.
U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige praised the GAO’s conclusions:
As I have said many times before, NCLB is a radical departure from the old ways of doing things: gone are the days where taxpayers’ hard-earned money was dispensed without any accountability for whether children were achieving. If states do not want federal support, they are not required to take the funds. It’s that simple. But if they do, we insist that they measure student progress so that they can diagnose areas that need improvement and ensure that all students are indeed learning.
Perhaps we should think about what this law asks: getting all children in our great nation to be reading and doing math at grade level. I do not believe that is too much to ask, particularly given the $500 billion we spend every year at the state, local and national levels on K-12 education. That should be the “mandate” of every school in the nation anyway.
Federal education spending has increased by 37.5 percent since the 2000-01 school year. Education Department officials says that’s enough to cover the costs of NCLB.
For ed junkies, the 2004 Conditions of Education report is available online.