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MINNESOTA SCHOOLS: Feds yank $113,000 from state coffers

A change of heart by the U.S. Department of Education will cost Minnesota $113,000 in Title I money.

The department is withholding the money because it says the state is out of compliance with the No Child Left Behind law. But it's not that simple, state Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke explained Friday.

Federal officials decided not to stick to a March 2002 waiver that allowed the state to use attendance and graduation rates for middle and high schools to determine whether they were making "adequate yearly progress."

But April 23, the U.S. department decided to pull back the waiver and require Minnesota to measure those schools' progress with standardized tests. Since then, the state has been negotiating with federal authorities. The state put together its paper trail of federal letters which spelled out the waiver, but that didn't prevent federal authorities from changing their mind.

"We moved ahead in good faith based on bad advice," Yecke said at a press conference Friday. "I'm disappointed by this."

Yecke's other option, she said, would have been to require Minnesota schools to use 2003-04 as a year of measuring adequate yearly progress, instead of just being the baseline year against which future years would be measured. While that would have brought the state into compliance, it wouldn't have been fair, Yecke said.

"We would have been changing the rules on our schools in the middle of the game," she said. It also may have required two rounds of tests for students in one school year, as the state would have been searching for some way to measure progress.

Instead, the state's Education Department will take the loss of Title I funds, leaving two vacant positions unfilled, she said. The jobs are a Title I evaluator and a parent liaison for the Title I program. The program passes on additional federal funds to schools with large numbers of students who live in poverty.

In a letter dated Friday from Rod Paige, the U.S. secretary of education, he pointed out that his department "has the authority to withhold a higher amount for this noncompliance." He said keeping 10 percent of the state's Title I administrative funds is appropriate based on "Minnesota's intent to cure this violation for the 2003-2004 school year and all of the other factual circumstances."

Yecke said the experience doesn't shake her beliefs in the overall goals of the No Child Left Behind law and its school accountability requirements. She's also confident, she said, that the Title I funds will only be withheld for a year.

Other states have been caught in similar circumstances. In May, Georgia was told it would lose $783,000 in federal money. Georgia had received a waiver for when it has to improve student assessments, but missed a deadline that was tied to the waiver.

"I think between now and the start of school you're going to see other states in this situation," Yecke said.

— John Welbes
MINNESOTA SCHOOLS: Feds yank $113,000 from state coffers
Pioneer Press
August 2, 2003


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