WASHINGTON - Parents have been promised that kids will get a highly qualified teacher in every core class this year. Now it's clearer what will happen if they don't.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has assured states that she won't strip their federal money if they fail to get all teachers qualified by the end of the school year. But that deal will be offered only to states that show they are making a serious effort.
The terms mark the first time the Education Department has explained how it will enforce the sweeping teacher-quality promise of President Bush's No Child Left Behind law. Notably, states can get a full extra year to comply - if they can prove their case to Spellings.
Specifically, states must have a legitimate definition of "highly qualified," report accurate data about the quality of their teachers, and try to ensure poor and minority students do not have a larger share of unqualified teachers than other children do.
Otherwise, Spellings said in a letter to chief state school officers, she may withhold federal money. That's significant because money is the government's only major tool of enforcement, and enforcement is the only way parents know whether the promise has been kept.
Nothing in the law or the new guidance forces any unqualified teacher to be fired.
"If you acted in good faith, what we're going to say is, 'OK. We need to sit down and talk. What is your game plan?' " said Assistant Secretary Tom Luce. " 'What are you going to do that's new and different?' "
It will be up to Spellings' team to decide who has shown good faith and who hasn't.
Under the law, teachers in all major subjects are supposed to be highly qualified this year, which means having a bachelor's degree, state certification and proven competence in every subject they teach. Teachers in isolated, rural areas have an extra year to qualify.