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Education Department Fines Texas for Missing NCLB Transfer Deadline

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The U.S. Department of Education has fined Texas $444,000 for failing to inform parents quickly enough that their children were eligible under the No Child Left Behind Act to transfer out of struggling schools.

The fine is unrelated to a continuing disagreement between state and federal officials over how Texas included the test scores of students with disabilities when determining if districts and schools made adequate yearly progress in the 2003-04 school year under the federal law. Texas officials said April 25 they were working with federal officials on those differences and were optimistic that they would be resolved without further fines being levied against the state.

"We're hopeful that [fines] should never be an issue again," Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said.

The federal fine equals 4 percent of the administrative funds that Texas received in fiscal 2004 under the Title I aid program for disadvantaged students—the largest program under the No Child Left Behind law. Ms. Ratcliffe said the state agency would be able to absorb the fine without lowering school districts' federal grants.

In an April 22 letter, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said Texas had violated the No Child Left Behind requirement that parents be notified before the school year begins of their option to transfer their children out of a school that failed to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, for two consecutive years. Last fall, the state did not notify districts of schools' AYP status until Sept. 27, more than a month after most schools in the state had started the 2004-05 school year.

In an earlier letter to Ms. Spellings, Texas Commissioner of Education Shirley Neeley said the state was delayed in calculating AYP results because the federal officials did not act quickly enough on the state's request to alter its plan to comply with the law.

The federal department did not give state officials a final response until July 29—three months later than promised, Ms. Neeley said in her Feb. 10 letter.

On a special education issue, Ms. Neeley announced in February that she granted appeals to 431 districts and 1,312 schools that otherwise had failed to make AYP in the 2003-04 school year. Ms. Neeley said those districts and schools failed to make AYP because they had followed the state's rules for testing special education students, which are less stringent that federal rules.

Secretary Spellings has said that she disagrees with that decision. Ms. Neeley met with federal officials to discuss the issue on April 20 in Washington.

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