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Texas Violation Could Cost Millions

Ohanian Comment: Just call this stall and conquer. This has the makings of one of those old Monty Python skits. Or maybe it's really the Keystone Cops. But note the Feds have their finger in the delay.

The Texas Education Agency has violated federal law by failing to tell parents if their children's schools performed up to standard under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The U.S. Department of Education may withhold as much as $7 million in federal funding until Texas releases the report that lists which schools missed the federal benchmarks, called "adequate yearly progress." And parents won't be able to request transfers to move their children from poorly performing schools.

"The law states we're supposed to announce the results before school started and we did not make that deadline," said Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, a TEA spokeswoman. "We had some issues we were appealing."

Because the U.S. Department of Education did not approve the state's plan until the end of July, education officials are still tallying results, Ratcliffe said. According to TEA's Web site, preliminary data will be released to schools on Nov. 15, but the final list of schools that did not make adequate yearly progress won't be out until Feb. 23.

D.J. Nordquist, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, said that's not good enough.

"It won't be February," she said. "We've been working with people at the Texas Education Agency and those results will be released before that."

Releasing the results when the school year is more than halfway over not only puts school districts in a tough situation, it robs parents of choices guaranteed in No Child Left Behind. The law, approved in 2002, is President Bush's education reform plan. Under the plan, schools must demonstrate overall year-to-year progress, as well as in subgroups based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and disability.

Students at schools that receive federal Title I funds and miss the benchmarks two years in a row are eligible to transfer to a different school with the district footing the bill for transportation. Linda Mora, deputy superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Northside School District, said it's unlikely that a parent would choose to move a child when the school year is coming to an end.

"It puts us in an awkward situation because you want to do what the state requires, but you also want to do what the federal government requires," Mora said. Four Northside schools that receive federal funds did not make adequate yearly progress last year and students there could be eligible to switch schools this year.

"We're trying to get prepared, but there's not much we can do at this point without the results," Mora said.

Texas wasn't the only state to miss the first day of school deadline. The U.S. Department of Education also considered withholding money from Alabama where officials released test data Aug. 12 three days after school started.

Most of the states that missed the deadline have either released results or are working to get them out this month. Only Texas has set a release date as late as February.

Alicia Thomas, associate superintendent for instruction for North East School District, said she was surprised by the February date.

"I read the law and I knew the deadline was the first day of school," said Mora, who has one school in her district Krueger Middle where students could be eligible to transfer. "We would like to move forward, but that's difficult to do right now."

Ratcliffe said talks with U.S. Department of Education officials are continuing and state educators hope for a compromise. She said Texas scores are late because of the state's complicated accountability system, which includes several different tests.

Also, federal education officials scrapped much of Texas' plan for assessing annual yearly progress because it didn't meet the law's requirements.

State officials say the money the federal government is withholding won't affect programs at the district or school level.

Still, the news was disconcerting to school officials.

"With the budget this year, any loss of funds would be of concern," Thomas said. "They had a hard time paying for textbooks this year. How can they afford this?"

— Jenny LaCoste-Caputo
San Antonio Express-News
2004-09-04
http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/metro/stories/MYSA090404.1B.TEAsanctions.4a446328.html


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