"It's high noon" at the old corral; a showdown between our state lawmakers (the white hats), and the Bush administration (the black hats) over No Child Left Behind.

The white hats are finally standing up to the big bully government. It's showtime.

We should be thrilled to see our legislators finally standing up and fighting for the principles we say we hold dear in Utah — local control and less government interference. We are tired of the "feds" imposing burdensome regulations, demanding strict accountability and, most egregious, taking away local control. You would expect a Republican administration to provide leadership based on those same principles. But in Washington, it's getting so you can't tell the white hats from the black hats. They are all the same. Whether it's GHW Bush's "America 2000," Clinton's "Goals 2000" or now G.W. Bush's "NCLB," it's all about egos and leaving a legacy. In order to do that, each new administration has to tear down what was started by the previous one and give it a new spin, without concern for start-up costs or long-term investment.

In the meantime, states get jerked around; they slap together any kind of grant proposal just to get money and then continue to blame the feds as we see our schools go downhill. It's wrong, it's costly and I'm glad our leaders are telling the feds what to do with it.

The education of our children should not be compromised, and neither should our principles. In the past, we seem to have done both. As our leaders stand up to the feds, there are two other principles to which we give lip service: We treat everyone fairly, and "we take care of our own."

I'm sure these won't be compromised, either. Legislators are now willing to stand on principle and give up $103 million of Title I money earmarked to help disadvantaged children. At the same time, they are considering tuition tax credits that will take money out of the system for those who are able to send their children to private schools. How fair is that? How does that square with "we take care of our own"?" Is this "Animal Farm," where we are going to be saying that some are more equal than others? Are poor kids not part of our "own"?" Are we going to be turning back the clock on 40 years of civil rights progress?

The "Western showdown" requires that the white hats follow through and take responsibility for putting together a plan that embraces all those principles (remember principled people don't pick and choose) and that assures our children will get a quality education.

It can be done, and when we do it, we can stand proud. For too long, we have let the feds determine our destiny, believing they had the power to do so. You know what? The only power they have is that which we give them.

What we, and our lawmakers, need to realize is that the fight for the education of our children is in our hands. No one cares more, and no one can do it better. Once we realize that no one is going to save us except ourselves, we can get on with the business of providing a world-class education for all our children in the way we want to do it. It's a hometown fight. As legislators prepare for the big showdown, they should do it Western style — take responsibility. It requires that lawmakers put together a plan for how the state will educate our children, put it on the table and invite the feds to help us get it done. That's not only standing on principle, that's backing it up with action.

It's "high noon," and I'm betting the white hats will stand up for principles — all of them — and tell the feds we are going to make sure all our children get a world-class education, and here is how we are going to do it. If the feds want to help, fine, but we are not going to play games for the sake of our children. We do take care of our own — all of them. And we do it fairly!


A Utah native, John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations, served on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch and on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards. He has also been deputy assistant secretary of labor. E-mail: jdflorez@comcast.net