Washington first state to lose No Child Left Behind waiver

The U.S. Department of Education is yanking Washington state’s waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the department announced Thursday.

Loss of the waiver means that Washington will no longer be exempt from onerous parts of the federal education law, which set performance goals that schools in Washington have been unable to meet.

That means school districts throughout Washington will have to redirect roughly $38 million in federal funding toward private tutoring efforts, instead of using the Title I funds to pay for district programs for low-income students. Additionally, nearly every school in the state will be labeled as failing, since Washington schools have fallen short of the performance standards established under the federal law.

Hoquiam would have redirect 20 percent of the more than $700,000 in Title I funding it receives, while Aberdeen would have to set aside about $200,000 of its Title I funding, according to numbers gathered for a Daily World story in March.

Federal education officials told Washington education leaders in August that the Legislature must approve changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system to keep its waiver.

But lawmakers adjourned in March without requiring that student scores on state standardized tests be used as a factor in teacher evaluations. Current state law requires teacher and principal evaluations to consider student test scores, but lets districts choose which tests they will use — a status quo that the federal government has said is unacceptable.

Washington is now the first U.S. state to have its waiver revoked by the federal government.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a letter Thursday that the Legislature’s lack of action on teacher evaluations is why he is revoking the state’s waiver from the federal law, which is also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

“As you know, Washington’s request for ESEA flexibility was approved based on Washington’s commitments to carry out certain actions in support of key education reforms,” Duncan said in the letter addressed to Washington schools chief Randy Dorn.

“In return for those commitments, we granted your State and your local school districts significant flexibility. However, Washington has not been able to keep all of its commitments. Thus, although Washington has benefitted from ESEA flexibility, I regret that Washington’s flexibility will end with the 2013—2014 school year,” Duncan wrote.

Without the waiver, schools and districts throughout Washington will also be required to notify parents that their school or district is failing.

An OSPI official told The News Tribune in March that there isn’t a single district in the state that won’t have to send parents some letters telling them their child attends a failing school or is in a failing district.

Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement Thursday that news of Washington’s waiver is “disappointing, but not unexpected.” He said said districts will be hurt by their inability to freely spend nearly $40 million in federal funds.

“Loss of that funding means those districts now face potential impacts that could include laying off some of Washington’s tremendous teachers or cutting back on programs that serve at-risk students,” Inslee’s statment said. “I hope districts will work to mitigate impacts on students. I know that despite this setback Washington teachers remain fully committed to serving our students.”

Dorn, the state superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement Thursday that he agrees with Duncan that “student progress should be one of multiple elements in a teacher’s evaluation.” He said lobbying by the state teachers union was to blame for Washington lawmakers’ failure to act, and now the state’s loss of the federal waiver.

“Unfortunately the teacher’s union felt it was more important to protect their members than agree to that change and pressured the Legislature not to act,” Dorn said in his statement.

Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said the “Washington Legislature did the right thing this past session” by rejecting legislation aimed at keeping the state’s waiver.

Wood said making any changes to teacher and principal evaluations would be detrimental to the new evaluation system that school districts are just starting to use this year.

“We have a great new evaluation system we’re implementing,” Wood said. “What Secretary Duncan was trying to force on our state was going to derail that.”


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