Now you have the NCLB waiver, now you don’t

Now you have the NCLB waiver, now you don’t

(Wash.) K-12 schools here are adjusting their budgets to deal with the $40 million impact of having their federal No Child Left Behind waiver revoked.

But any staffing or programs lost to the impending shift are likely to be offset by increased revenues from the improving state economy as well as additional school funding ordered under a 2012 court ruling.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the state’s top education official vowed that work will continue toward meeting all waiver requirements in hopes of having it reinstated in 2015.

“The (U.S.) Department of Education has said, ‘you know, we have not extended your waiver for the ‘14-‘15 school year but if state law does change then you can reapply,” said Nathan Olson, spokesman for state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn.

The issue, not unique to Washington, is that the waivers require teacher evaluation systems based in part on student test scores.

Forty-three states, plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and a group of eight California school districts have received waivers – issued by the Obama Administration starting in 2011 to provide relief from some of the more onerous requirements of the top education law in the land.

The president also created his $4.3 billion Race to the Top fund to encourage states to implement new teacher evaluation systems and other changes.

Only one state – Ohio – appears to have adopted all elements of the program’s teacher evaluation requirements, according to an analysis released earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. (See Cabinet Report, May 2)

Other waiver holders have struggled to reach agreement with their teachers, who balk at having their performance – and under some proposals, their pay and job status – tied to student test scores, arguing that doing so only measures a small piece of their work and jeopardizes student-focused learning.

Arizona, Kansas and Oregon are at risk of losing their waivers, having been placed on the federal “high risk” status list last August as well.

Despite making progress in other areas – such as implementing a new accountability index to identify schools in need of improvement – Washington and its state teachers union, after two years, could not agree on an evaluation system. Because of this, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan late last month, sent word that he would not be renewing the state’s waiver.

In a letter from Duncan emailed to Dorn April 24, the education secretary says that Washington’s failure to follow through on all of its waiver commitments would not allow him to “extend Washington’s authority to implement ESEA flexibility.”

As a result, Duncan said, the state and its schools must, in the 2014-15 school year, resume implementing the requirements of Title I of the ESEA – as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 – as well as all other ESEA requirements that were waived.

“This means that, among other actions that the state and LEAs will have to resume, [they] must once again set aside 20 percent of their Title I funds for public school choice and supplemental education services rather than having the flexibility to use those funds for other activities to improve student achievement in low-achieving schools,” Duncan wrote. “Should Washington obtain the requisite authority to resolve its condition, I would be pleased to reconsider Washington’s request to implement ESEA flexibility at any time.”

To account for that 20 percent set-aside, which amounts to $40 million for Washington schools, districts have made minimal staff layoffs – mostly specialist positions, according to a report in Tacoma’s News Tribune – and may shuffle a few programs as needed, said OSPI spokesman Olson.

A raise in school funding of $1 billion in 2013 – though the first increase for schools in nearly five years, according to Olson – could help cover gaps created by the redirection of federal funding.

There is also hope that with revenues on the rise due to an improving economy, the Legislature will provide additional money owed to schools under a 2012 Washington Supreme Court ruling that found the state wasn’t adequately funding education.

To satisfy terms of that ruling, Washington must provide an additional $3.5 billion to its schools each year through 2018 for a total biennial allocation of $23 billion, Olson said. Whether the money will be available and whether the Legislature will follow through on giving it to schools, however, remains to be seen.

As for the state meeting accountability mandates under NCLB, it won’t happen, said Olson, and, again, Washington will not be alone.

States without waivers must, by the end of the coming school year, show that all students – 100 percent – are proficient in math and English. Schools who don’t meet this standard will be declared failing.

Olson said Washington plans to continue the progress it has already achieved under the waiver, including use of its own accountability index which is already showing promising results.

“We feel that we’ve got a really good way of identifying underperforming schools and it’s more valid than AYP,” Olson said, referring to the federal Annual Yearly Progress objectives required under NCLB.

And, he added, his office will continue to partner with lawmakers attempting to tie student test scores to teacher evaluations by changing state law.

This next session, we’re going to try to drum up support for another bill that will change ‘can’ to ‘must,’ just as we did this spring,” said Olson. “We were not successful but we’re going to propose that again next winter and spring and see if we can make it work.” more