By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press
COLUMBUS - The federal government is threatening to withhold up to $403.7 million in education money for Ohio if state lawmakers don't approve the state's school accountability plan by the start of the school year.
The Legislature recessed last week without approving a bill that would align Ohio's school system with federal law.
It is not scheduled to reconvene until mid-September.
In a letter state school Superintendent Susan Tave Zelman received Friday, the U.S. Department of Education said it would keep part or all of Ohio's share of Title I money if the state's plan to improve student achievement is not in place before the 2003-2004 school year begins.
"I cannot overstate how critical it is that Ohio put in place the statutory changes needed to implement its accountability plan," wrote Darla Marburger, deputy assistant secretary of the federal Education Department.
The 2002 No Child Left Behind Act requires states to adopt accountability plans to increase school testing and improve teaching. Ohio's plan was included in House Bill 3.
Last week, the House failed to get enough votes to agree with Senate changes in the bill and make the measure effective immediately.
The federal government approved Ohio's plan in January on the condition that the state make the appropriate changes to state laws to implement the system by the start of the school year.
Marburger said Ohio would not be in compliance with federal law if it waits to change state laws until the fall, and that the federal government was prepared to withhold the money.
The $403.7 million is about 30.6 percent of the federal money Ohio is to receive for the next school year and 4.3 percent of the state's budget for primary and secondary schools for the budget year that begins Tuesday.
Orest Holubec, Gov. Bob Taft's spokesman, said the governor's office is working with the state and federal education agencies and talking with legislative leaders to find a remedy.
"We're looking at all of our options and will discuss with those in the House and Senate about whether lawmakers need to come back," he said.
Several Democrats in the House voted against the bill, which is sponsored by Republican Rep. John Schlichter, because of a change the Senate made to the way the state counts student attendance for funding.
The Senate required two counts each year instead of just one.
The House Democrats wanted to base funding on a three-year average enrollment because, they said, the Senate plan would hurt urban districts that often lose students during the school year.
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