AG Speaks At Event For East Lyme School Board Hopeful

East Lyme — In what could be a first for a local school board campaign, the state Attorney General came to town Thursday night, mingling with teachers and speaking about federal lawsuits during a soda-and-brownies event at the Niantic Bay Yacht Club.

Richard Blumenthal was a guest of Lydia Benedict, a Democratic candidate for the Board of Education. The event, attended by about 40 people, was not a fund-raiser.

The function was billed as an opportunity for educators in town to hear Blumenthal speak about the lawsuit Connecticut has filed against the federal government over the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

With the endorsement of the state legislature, Blumenthal filed the lawsuit in August.

The suit charges that the NCLB Act violates both a state law and a provision in the federal act itself that prevents the state from spending its own money to meet the mandates of the act.

Blumenthal said more than 50 school boards have backed the lawsuit. That includes the East Lyme Board of Education, which voted last month to support the state's action.

Blumenthal has worked with Benedict's husband, Jeff, president of the Connecticut Alliance Against Casino Expansion, in calling for reforms in the federal recognition process for American Indian tribes. Blumenthal referred to Jeff Benedict as a “colleague, ally, and partner” on Thursday.

But Lydia Benedict said it was the attorney general who offered to come to Niantic.

“When he found I was planning to run for the Board of Ed, he said, ‘I'll have to have a chance to come down and speak to her,' ” she said after the event Thursday. “He kind of brought it up. I didn't have to ask.”

After opening remarks by Lydia Benedict, Blumenthal began his talk by congratulating her and the other candidates for campaigning.

“Anytime anyone takes a run for public office, it's a courageous step, in my view,” he said and then read a list of all the local school board candidates, Democrat and Republican.

Blumenthal highlighted the state's reasons for the lawsuit, which includes the charge of unfunded mandates, and he likened the federal government to a “schoolyard bully” for its stance in telling states to support the NCLB Act or to refuse all federal funds.

Audience members asked Blumenthal why other states have lagged behind in joining the lawsuit; where the federal government would find the money to fund the act if it lost; and what the state would do if it lost, among other questions.

Blumenthal said other states are waiting to see what happens when the federal government files its motion to dismiss Connecticut's lawsuit, and that many are afraid of retaliation as well. He said state government would have to find additional sources of revenue rather than “raiding” other areas of education if it lost.
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