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Published: Tuesday, 7/1/2003

$403M for Ohio schools in jeopardy

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Ohio could lose up to $403.7 million in federal funds for primary and secondary education if the legislature doesn't approve a bill that puts the state into compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind law.

“I urge Ohio to adopt the necessary statutory changes prior to the start of the school year,” wrote Darla Marburger, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, in a letter that state officials distributed yesterday.

The federal law requires school districts to test students in reading and math every year from grades three to eight - and then break out those scores based on race, ethnicity, income, and disability.

The Ohio House passed the bill on May 21, but the Senate made several changes before voting 27-5 to approve it.

The House, however, didn't have enough “yes” votes to make the bill take effect immediately.

Gov. Bob Taft is “concerned” that the state could lose federal funding, according to Orest Holubec, Mr. Taft's press secretary.

Aides to House and Senate Republican leaders said they didn't know if the legislature - which last week recessed for the summer - would return so a House-Senate committee could hash out the differences.

The state Department of Education is awaiting the decision, according to spokesman J.C. Benton.

If the Ohio Department of Education can't start the new system - which President Bush has said is designed to make educators accountable for their students' achievement - by the start of the next academic year, the federal government will consider Ohio to be out of compliance with Title I, Ms. Marburger said.

Title I is the program in which federal dollars flow to low-wealth school districts, including Toledo Public Schools.

Under federal law, the U.S. Department of Education can withhold all or part of the Title I federal funds distributed to school districts, totaling about $399.8 million - and $3.9 million for state administrative costs, Ms. Marburger said.

State Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), who on June 12 dropped his sponsorship of the bill citing “intrusive, overreaching mandates, “ said lawmakers will consider returning to Columbus to resolve the issue.

But Mr. Gardner said the federal government shouldn't be upset that the legislature took so long to pass the bill.

Only a day before the Senate voted last week, he said, federal officials told the state Department of Education that school districts can continue to administer the reading section of the third and fourth-grade proficiency tests in October and March, with a cumulative passing score to count.

“The rules and regulations continue to change,” Mr. Gardner said.

State Rep. Bill Hartnett (D., Mansfield) said he voted against agreeing with the Senate amendments to the “No Child Left Behind “ bill because of a late change in how the state will count enrollment in determining how much state aid school districts receive.

Mr. Hartnett said the version in the “No Child Left Behind” bill would require an enrollment count twice a year, and the numbers wouldn't be averaged.

“The result is large urban school districts that are losing attendance would be hit twice a year,” he said.



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