March 3, 2005, 1:02AM
Consequences for Texas' Defiance of Law are Unclear
The state isn't obeying part of the No Child measure, but policy doesn't define penalties
By JUSTIN GEST
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
Texas' failure to comply with a guideline of the No Child Left Behind education law has led the government into undefined territory when it comes to punishing the state, according to government experts.
President Bush's education initiative doesn't define specific penalties for a state's defiance as it leaves room for the withholding of massive federal funding for public schools.
"You get into a gray area here," said Richard Burkard, an attorney with the Government Accountability Office, which has authored several policy studies on No Child Left Behind. "I can't tell if there are any teeth to the law."
The penalty "probably wouldn't start with taking away all funding, but it's the ultimate weapon," he said.
Texas exempted nearly 10 times the desired number of students from regular standardized testing, even after its request for a waiver to do so was denied by the U.S. Department of Education, which is led by former Houstonian Margaret Spellings. The government requires schools exempt no more than 1 percent from testing because of learning disabilities.
Only Minnesota had consciously ignored the new federal policy before, when the state's education commissioner failed to conduct testing of students and instead used their attendance records and graduation rates to meet average yearly progress requirements. Minnesota had no state testing arrangements at the time but has since met the federal guidelines.
Minnesota was fined $113,000 by Spellings' predecessor, Rod Paige, of Houston.
The Texas case sets the stage for a precedent-setting showdown involving Spellings, the policy's architect, and her home state, the policy's incubator when Bush was governor and she was his education adviser.
Spellings said she has not decided how to respond to the Texas challenge while her office is occupied with Utah, whose legislature recently voted to override the law's guidelines.
"I have organized a group of experts looking at it," she said Wednesday. "Texas is an outlier with this 9 percent number. And we'll be looking at it."