February 26, 2005

TEA maneuver cuts number of failing campuses but may endanger federal funding

By Jason Spencer / Houston Chronicle

Faced with the prospect of tagging nearly half of the state's school districts with failing grades under the federal accountability system, Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley instead changed the rules to reduce the number of failing schools sixfold.

The move, described by some as a direct challenge to the U.S. Department of Education's enforcement of the controversial No Child Left Behind Act, sets up a potential showdown between Neeley and the Bush administration.

National education observers said Neeley's move makes Texas the first state to outright refuse to follow the law's requirements.

Texas receives more than $1 billion in federal money tied to compliance with No Child Left Behind. Some of that money could be in jeopardy, depending on how federal officials react to Neeley's decision. The TEA released grades Friday.

"It sets up, obviously, a rather interesting situation between the U.S. Department of Education and the state of Texas and you could see administrative funding cuts due to noncompliance," said Scott Young, a senior policy analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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