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The Atlanta Journal - Constitution

Most States Not Fully Compliant

Optimism Premature On Bush's No Child Left Behind Program

Cox Washington Bureau

August 8, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Atlanta Journal - Constitution. All rights reserved. 

Washington --- President Bush's message sounded so upbeat that state education officials who had flown in from across the country broke into applause repeatedly when he delivered it in the White House Rose Garden.

''Every state, plus Puerto Rico and the District [of Columbia], are now complying with the No Child Left Behind Act after one year,'' Bush told them in the televised ceremony June 10.

The chief state school officers were understandably pleased, because each jurisdiction is supposed to comply with the education reform act in order to get its full share of the $11.7 billion in Title I funds for disadvantaged students distributed this year.

Looking back to his first days in office, Bush said, ''Keep in mind that in January of 2001, only 11 states were in compliance with a 1994 education law.''

As an example of ''significant progress,'' he mentioned that in the past five months, Education Secretary Rod Paige had approved the accountability plans of 33 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico.

Nearly two months after that afternoon of euphoria, the path toward perfection in K-12 education is looking a little rockier.

So far, only five of the 52 accountability plans have been ''fully approved,'' just as only 11 plans for academic standards and tests had been fully approved under the old law by January 2001. A sardonic headline in Education Week, a national newspaper about K-12 education, reads, '' 'Approved' Is Relative Term for Ed Dept.''

The five states are Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon and Texas.

Only ''the basic elements'' of the other 47 plans had been approved by Paige. Federal records and interviews with U.S. and state officials show that since June 10:

Two states, Georgia and Minnesota, were so far out of compliance that the Department of Education decided to rap their knuckles by denying them a small portion of their Title I funds. Georgia, which failed to give some promised tests to high school students, lost $783,327 of its $343.4 million share. Minnesota, which declined to use scores from a brand new test in measuring the progress of its middle and high schools, lost $112,964 of its $117.7 million.

Another 19 jurisdictions were told they can't get full approval until they set up and meet a timetable for obtaining the necessary approvals from their state education boards, legislatures or both.

Another 17 were told they have to modify their submission.

Eight were told they only have to clarify one or two ambiguous points. The eight are Florida, Maine, Missouri, New Jersey, North Dakota, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming

''When the president said on June 10 that they were all in full compliance, that wasn't particularly accurate,'' said Joel Packer, a lobbyist for the nation's largest union, the teacher-dominated National Education Association, which is seeking major changes in the president's No Child Left Behind Act.

Ronald Tomalis, Paige's acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, disagreed sharply.

''There were some conditions put on some of the plans, no doubt about it,'' Tomalis said. ''But all the plans were approved by June 10.''

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