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ESEA Waiver update: who is NOT applying?

February 22, 2012

While the majority of states have either applied for or intend to apply for the US Department of Education’s waiver from ESEA requirements, there are a few that are holding out.   While 11 states applied during the first round of requests, another 28 expressed their intent to apply during the latest round. As of February 21, 2012, 26 States and Washington D.C. have submitted their intent to request ESEA Flexibility through this waiver process. So, what about the other 11 states?

California, Pennsylvania, and Texas are among the 11 that have indicated that they will not apply for the waiver at this time, citing cost, local control, and politics as the rationale for not requesting flexibility around the ESEA requirements.  Nebraska stated that they are simply not prepared to apply for the waiver at this time.  After reading some of the state applications from the initial round, it is easy to see how Nebraska and others would find the requirements daunting.

In terms of cost, California estimates the total statewide cost of implementing the waiver to be between $2 and $3 billion.  Such “jaw-dropping” costs are related to adoption and transition to college- and career-ready and Common Core Standards and the associated assessments and professional development;  implementation of a differentiated accountability, reward/recognition, and support system; and development and implementation of teacher and principal evaluation systems.  However, the Department noted that some of the costs could be offset by eliminating  Choice with Transportation and Supplemental Educational Services and the requirement for Title I schools to set-aside 10 percent of their budget for professional development.   While California is still uncertain whether they will apply for the waiver, the State Superintendent has made it clear that, “…one top-down decade is enough.”

Texas is more concerned about the loss of state and local control that would accompany the waiver, specifically the adoption of the Common Core Standards and a possible national assessment and educator evaluation system.  While adoption of the Common Core Standards and participation in one of the common assessment consortiums is not a prerequisite for approval of a state’s waiver, demonstration that a state’s standards and assessments are rigorous enough to ensure “college- and career-readiness” is.  It will be interesting to watch the US Department of Education’s response to Puerto Rico, Minnesota, and Virginia, who will be applying for the waiver in the second round but do not intend to fully adopt the Common Core or participate in the consortium.

That leaves us with the political reality that all this work could be for naught if a new administration is elected in November or if ESEA is actually reauthorized.  Pennsylvania has decided instead to request a change to its Accountability Workbook to freeze its Adequately Yearly Progress targets for two years.  While Pennsylvania is also worried about losing state and local control, the concern about shifting gears once again, after investing time and money in meeting the requirements for the waiver, is very real.

So, are the waivers worth it?  There are certainly benefits, such as expanding Title I Schoolwide eligibility to more schools, freeing up funds by eliminating Choice with Transportation and Supplemental Educational Services, providing more flexibility in the allocation and transfer of funds,  ending the requirements for improvement plans for non-highly qualified teacher, and allowing 21st Century Community Learning Center funds to be used outside of non-school hours and when school is not in session.  However, as Michael Petrilli and Jim Stergios point out, flexibility in adopting a forward-thinking accountability system, which is at the heart of NCLB, seems to have been overlooked.  In fact, some argue that the waivers may even be a step back.

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