Education chief: Texas to get tough lesson on No Child law
WASHINGTON -- Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said Friday that she is indeed an "earth mother type of Republican" who nursed her children for a long time and made her own baby food, but she said she isn't willing to coddle Texas when it comes to education reform.
Spellings disclosed that her department has given Texas, where her boss, President Bush, once was governor and where she previously worked, 10 business days to come up with a plan for dramatically reducing the number of students exempted from grade-level tests required under the No Child Left Behind law.
Texas has exempted 9 percent of its students while the law limits that to 3 percent. In a breakfast session with reporters, she said those exemptions by the state where she went to school are disappointing.
A day after saying she was going to be more flexible about administering the law, Spellings said Texas is an "outlier" in abiding by the law, and she won't tolerate it and could penalize the state by withholding some of its federal money.
"Nine percent of the kids in Texas is nearly half a million kids," she said. "No Child Left Behind does not mean half a million left behind. . . . Nine percent is not on the table, period."
She said Texas officials seem to think "they can take their licks and take a little federal funding ding and move on down the road."
The secretary acknowledged she told an interviewer she was an "earth mother" kind of Republican, but when it comes to Texas, she said, "I intend to take a very strong approach." She said she has wide discretion to reduce federal funding.
By the same token, Spellings said she is eager to hear any proposal by Chicago Public Schools that would permit tutoring programs for children in failing schools before they are permitted to transfer to other schools, as Chicago has proposed. The law permits tutoring by supplemental service providers, she said, but she added that she will want to know how effective those tutoring programs would be.
"The first thing I am going to ask [Chicago schools chief] Arne Duncan is, `How are the kids doing? What's the rigor of the supplemental service provider?'" she said. "They have an interest in having effective subservice providers. If they can prove that up to parents and prove that up to me, I certainly would be willing to take it under advisement."
She said she will expect states and school districts to do a "very thorough job of looking at the providers and what they are offering" and what kind of tutoring results they would offer.
Spellings announced Thursday that she would be flexible in administering the No Child Left Behind law after complaints from states about federal intrusion and a lack of funding.
Asked if the Education Department had been too inflexible before she took chargein January, she said it was "appropriate and important" to take a tough stance after Congress passed the law three years ago. But she said now the government is trying to find out what is working and what needs refining.
The No Child Left Behind Act is designed to have all students reading and doing math at their grade level by 2014.
Spellings also described Connecticut's suit against the law "disappointing" and dismissed the state's claim that the law represents an unfunded federal mandate. She said state educational assessments required under the law are fully funded by the federal government.
The secretary said she will be particularly flexible in increasing the number of students who can take a modified test because of disabilities. These students "can get to grade level" despite learning difficulties, she said.
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