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No state left untouched by education law
McClatchy Newspapers


May 17, 2005

Washington - As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush defended his home state with a warning to those who would try to disparage it: "Don't mess with Texas."

Now it's his own administration that's doing the messin'.

Texas was slapped with a fine last month for failing to comply with the president's No Child Left Behind law - joining Minnesota and Georgia. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings ordered Texas to forfeit $444,282 in federal money for defying the law, and the state could lose a total of $11 million if it doesn't soon get in line.

"I intend to take a very strong approach to Texas," said Spellings, who's also a Texan.

Some Texans are scratching their heads, recalling how their schools were hailed as a model of accountability when Bush ran for president.

"We are puzzled by the reaction because the leadership in Texas knows the president and Secretary Spellings so well, and we've been in sync for so long on education policy," said Debbie Ratcliffe, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.

The Texas tiff is the latest example of the growing resentment among states toward the No Child Left Behind law, which requires yearly reading and math tests for all students in third through eighth grades. It comes as Bush faces growing skepticism from Republicans and Democrats alike over his plan to expand the mandatory tests to students in grades nine to 11.

Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., one of the leading critics of the law, said Congress should "go back and redress some of the shortcomings before we talk about expanding it elsewhere." He said the law is "rigid to the point of absurdity."

Bush defended the law during a recent news conference, saying it's working and test scores are rising. He said states that are complaining have no reason to fear the measurement of progress if they're teaching children properly.

"Some people don't like to measure," said Bush. "But if you don't measure, how do you know whether you've got a problem in a classroom? ... I will do everything I can to prevent people from unwinding it."

While politicians debate the merits, the future of No Child Left Behind could be settled in the courts. School districts in Texas, Michigan and Vermont punched back against the Bush administration, joining the National Education Association in filing a lawsuit on April 20 that seeks to force the federal government to pay for all costs associated with the law.

Critics say that schools can't afford to pay for the tests already in place and that they're forced to make budget cuts elsewhere as a result.

"It is taking away from my child's classroom subjects like music, art, foreign languages, social studies and sports," said Jose Zuniga, a parent from Laredo, Texas, one of the districts that filed the suit. "Those activities are being replaced with high-stakes, high-stress tests that don't help my child learn."


Distributed to subscribers by Scripps Howard News Service.

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