Isle schools fail federal mandate
Hawaii faces no immediate penalties thanks to progress in recent years
Most states, including Hawaii, failed to meet federal requirements that all teachers be "highly qualified" in core teaching fields and that state programs for testing students be up to standards by the end of the past school year, according to the federal government.
The deadline was mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's effort to make all American students proficient in reading and math by 2014. But the Education Department found that no state had met the deadline for having qualified teachers, and it gave only 10 states full approval of their testing systems.
Faced with such findings, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who took office promising flexible enforcement of the law, has toughened her stance, leaving several states in danger of losing parts of their federal aid.
In the past few weeks, Spellings has flatly rejected as inadequate the testing systems in Maine and Nebraska. She has also said that nine states are so far behind in providing highly qualified teachers that they could face sanctions, and she has accused California of failing to provide federally required alternatives to troubled schools. California could be fined as much as $4.25 million.
In Hawaii, 86 percent of teachers were "highly qualified" as of May 31, according to the state Department of Education.
Though Hawaii fell short, it faces no immediate federal sanctions due to progress made in recent years, said Faye Ikei, the department's personnel director. Three years ago, 76 percent of Hawaii teachers were "highly qualified."
"We have made progress and they have recognized that," Ikei said.
However, for Hawaii to stay out of the doghouse, federal officials still must approve a plan submitted earlier in July by the Hawaii DOE to raise its "highly qualified" numbers through stepped-up hiring efforts, additional incentives to land experienced teachers, and additional certification and licensing for existing teachers.
The potential fines faced by some states are far higher than any the U.S. Education Department has levied over No Child Left Behind, and officials in several states, already upset with many of the law's provisions, have privately expressed further anger over the threat of fines. But Spellings faces pressure for firm enforcement of the law from a broad array of groups, including corporations and civil rights organizations.
Federal officials found no actual fault with Hawaii's testing system, but the state missed federal requirements due mainly to inadequate documentation. Full approval awaits federal acceptance of a corrective plan to be submitted by the state.
If Hawaii fails to submit a viable plan, authorities will restrict 10 percent, or about $46,000, of the administrative funds for the federal Title I program, which provides millions to the state each year for schools with low-income students. However, that money would not be taken away, but merely put into the general Title I pot that is disbursed to schools.
"In the early part of her tenure, Spellings seemed more interested in finding reasons to waive the law's requirements than to enforce them," said Clint Bolick, president of the Alliance for School Choice, a group based in Phoenix that advocates more vigorous enforcement of provisions that give students the right to transfer from failing schools. "More recently, she seems intent on holding states' feet to the fire."
In an interview, Spellings acknowledged her shift in emphasis.
"I want states to know that Congress and the president mean business on the law," she said. She has stressed that message in part, she said, because the deadlines, which expired this month, were not met and because lawmakers have been asking her whether states are meeting the law's requirements.
"I'm enforcing the law -- does that make me tough?" Spellings said. "Last year it was, 'We're marching together toward the deadline,' but now it's time for, 'Your homework is due.'"
The New York Times News Service and Star-Bulletin reporter Dan Martin contributed to this report.