Under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, states, local governments, private institutions, and the people--not the federal government--bear the responsibility of funding and administering education. Congress, however, circumvents the 10th Amendment through the Spending Clause in Article 1 to justify funding a vast array of federal programs, including the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). NCLB created a federal education accountability system that often conflicts with Arizona's existing education accountability system, AZ Learns. As a result, principled federalists, frustrated by the overly prescriptive federal education law, have called for Arizona to opt out of NCLB.
While opting out would free the state from the federal accountability provisions, it would jeopardize some $584 million in federal funding. Without the federal dollars, the state would bear the cost of its AZ Learns accountability system and Arizona public schools would have to reduce or eliminate programs. Moreover, while Arizona taxpayers would continue to send their tax dollars to Washington, they would not recoup any of that funding through NCLB funding streams.
Opting out is a viable option for Arizona, and should be carefully considered. Such consideration, however, should not impede improvements to the existing state system. Arizona can increase the rigor of its testing system, Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS). In 2005, AIMS "cut scores" were lowered so that students with a poor grasp of reading or math were deemed to be at grade level. Such testing does not provide meaningful transparency to policymakers and parents.
The upcoming 2007 congressional reauthorization of NCLB is an opportunity for Congress to give states more flexibility and control over their education systems. Creation of a "charter state" option would enable states to have discretion over their federal funding in exchange for results-based accountability. A charter state agreement would free Arizona from Washington's prescriptions and regulations, ultimately allowing the state to target education dollars and maintain a single accountability system.