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EMPTY-HANDED GOVERNORS?: NGA Denied Federal Relief in Meetings with President Bush

Faced with growing state budget deficits, governors from around the country came to Washington for the National Governors Association (NGA) winter meetings and pleaded their case for more federal resources to meet federal mandates. In a unified voice, Republican and Democratic governors asked for help to meet demands for stepped-up homeland security, increasing costs of special education and the funding that was promised for the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). But their pleas fell on deaf ears at the White House.

On Feb. 25, The Wall Street Journal reported that President Bush, a former governor of Texas, bluntly suggested that states already get plenty of federal dollars and should expect no more help from Washington. The President asked governors to support his new $670 billion tax-cuts package-which gives no financial relief to states-and pointed to the costs of fighting the war on terrorism and the impending war with Iraq. The President portrayed himself as handcuffed by the estimated $307 billion federal budget deficit and pointed to the $400 billion in grants to states that he included in his fiscal 2004 budget request. Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell told The Wall Street Journal that the $400 billion is largely dictated by formulas that reflect health care costs and rising caseloads.

In their dealings with Congress, governors decided not to put a dollar figure on their request for federal help for homeland security and education, but to bide their time until budget negotiations begin on Capitol Hill in the coming months. Governor Rendell speculated that states would need close to $20 billion to shoulder the financial burden of these new requirements.

Lack of Federal Funding Could Threaten the Implementation of NCLB

For education, the President’s 2004 budget offers no additional funds above the amount Congress appropriated this year. At the same time,NCLB requires states and local school districts to have a highly qualified teacher in every classroom by school year 2005-6, test every child every year in grades three through eight and implement procedures to monitor “average yearly progress” toward the goal of all students being at the state-defined proficiency level by 2014. The Wall Street Journal reported that the shortfall in promised funds for carrying out NCLB was a big complaint from governors in both parties. Many education experts believe that because of the costs involved it may be difficult if not impossible to fulfill these mandates, without the substantial federal investment promised in the law. They also warn that the entire education reform movement could be jeopardized if Congress and the administration fail to allocate the resources promised when NCLB was enacted a year ago.

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