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In the "California POV," California Senators Roy Ashburn and Jack Scott share their points of view on immigration, education and the state of the federal partnership.


PT: How would you characterize the states' position in the federal partnership?

Ashburn: There's an obvious trend toward more federal involvement in what have been state responsibilities in recent years. We saw it in the Clinton years—federal funding for local police officers. Bush highlighted education. Both were previously the states' responsibility. Clearly, on welfare we had a national welfare reform act.

PT: Why do you think Congress has ventured into areas traditionally reserved for the states?

Ashburn: I think the federal government has often ventured into traditional areas of state responsibility to avoid the tough national issues. Politicians have an insatiable appetite for giving the appearance of problem solving, but is there any question that Congress is trying to avoid solving the social security problem? In many cases, I think it's a conscious, deliberate avoidance of trying to deal with the big issues at hand.

PT: What are the crucial issues for California on this account?

Ashburn: The hot topic is still immigration. There's no doubt it's a federal responsibility, but you have active avoidance of the issue. After the latest collapse, there's almost a reliance on the states to handle it.

PT: What should the states do to reassert their traditional authorities then?

Ashburn: As much as I'd like to say that the courts should resolve it, the courts are too busy. I'm not sure what can be done.


PT: No Child Left Behind is often cited as an incursion by the federal government on a traditional state issue. How would you characterize the policy?

Senator Scott: NCLB had some admirable goals—to test and to assess. But I think that there are some extremely unrealistic goals as well.

Moreover, NCLB has never been properly funded. We've spent over $500 billion on Iraq, and that's taken a lot of money off the table. I'm not suggesting that money should be given without any strings, but you can't have educational reform on the cheap.

PT: Are there examples of federal overreach in the policy itself?

Senator Scott: Yes, look at the definition of a 'highly qualified teacher.' Most states don't pay their teachers enough; the teaching profession has lost some of its prestige over the last 20 years. Yet NCLB is far too prescriptive in its definition of 'highly qualified teachers.'

PT: Can the bill be changed and modified to reflect a better collaboration between the federal government and the states?

Senator Scott: The reauthorization is pretty controversial. The states have been quite vocal in addressing their annoyance with federal interference, but I don't think that anything major will happen until after the next election. I can see how NCLB could be modified in areas where the goals have been unrealistic. Fortunately we're starting to get feedback from the states, and we will see more realistic goals after better, more informed debate.