03/18/2005: About Those Unfunded Mandates...
This article by David S. Broder (Washington Post) today at Those Unfunded Mandates is about a ten year old piece of legislation called merely the UMRA bill (Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995.) The UMRA has the purpose of requiring: "...any mandate that would cost state or local governments more than $50 million a year, or private business $100 million, would be subject to a point of order during debate -- and legislators would have to vote specifically that the benefit was worth the cost."
The article goes on to ask:
"So how has it worked? ...
[Senator Dirk] Kempthorne told the National League of Cities convention Monday that it has been a success, that "it fundamentally changed the relationship" between Washington and the other levels of government. He cited a recent Congressional Budget Office report that found only five new mandates had been passed in the past decade. In a later interview he told me, "It has changed the culture on Capitol Hill" by making Congress far more sensitive to the fiscal impact of its decisions.
Others are not so certain. The CBO testimony cited by Kempthorne said that while UMRA drove Congress "to either eliminate mandates or lower their costs" in several pieces of legislation, exemptions and restrictions that were part of the law have meant that "some federal requirements that state and local officials view as burdensome to their jurisdictions are not considered unfunded mandates under UMRA." These big programs include the No Child Left Behind school reform act, the legislation guaranteeing special-education benefits for disabled children, the Medicaid program and the post-2000-election law mandating improved voting equipment -- no small matters.
A similar study by the Government Accountability Office reached a similar conclusion, noting that expensive conditions placed on such programs as No Child Left Behind are beyond the reach of UMRA, because states can theoretically decline to participate."
This put me in mind of a recent conversation I had with a neighbor who works at a "purposely un-named" Suburban School District. She related to me the negative qualities of the "The No Child Left Behind Act" as it works in their district and how it only promises to get worse each year -- partially from the Unfunded Mandate of this legislation, as well as it's illogical criteria which raises the bar each year for performance regardless of the "certain" number of children who can never meet that bar in the "real world" situation to begin with.
Plus, she talked about the emphasis this puts on the teachers forced to focusing on those few students who fall within in this category of "needed to pass No Child left Behind" and the inordinate attention and time spent on those illusory goals. Her group for the district was called euphemistically "The List of the 94" and she is working hard to attempt to ensure these 94 students meet these No Child Left Behind criteria for her district. But the going is tough without the funds -- those Unfunded Mandates -- to achieve these goals.
Karen on 03.18.05 @ 06:01 AM CST