In the wake of the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) decision not to extend Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi today directed state education officials to immediately begin the task of compliance with NCLB, which is part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
“This decision by the federal government is disappointing and frustrating. Oklahoma has made significant strides forward in strengthening our schools, progress that has largely been possible because of the flexibility of the waiver,” Barresi said. “The State Department of Education worked hard making Oklahoma’s case to USDE. The state’s congressional delegation provided staunch support for the waiver extension, as did many others.
“Unfortunately, the USDE decided otherwise. The loss of the waiver will be a significant challenge for our districts and schools, as well as for this state agency. But Oklahomans are resilient and resolute, and our education community will do what needs to be done to meet the requirements of NCLB.”
On Aug. 28, USDE notified the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) that Oklahoma is losing the NCLB Flexibility Waiver that gives the state and districts relief on 13 federal regulations.
Although USDE directed Oklahoma to comply with the bulk of NCLB as soon as possible, federal officials stipulated that a key component of that law won’t have to be implemented until the 2015-2016 school year. USDE said Oklahoma will have one year to comply with a requirement that 20 percent of Title I funds be set aside for supplemental educational services (SES) and transportation for school choice.
That additional time will be helpful to districts, said Kerri White, OSDE assistant superintendent for teacher and leader effectiveness.
“In this era of teacher shortages and minimal per-pupil funding, the additional year to prepare for a set-aside for SES and choice-related transportation will likely spare districts from laying off additional teachers and support staff,” White said. “Students will have direct access to services and supports they need to improve their reading and math skills this year, while administrators plan for these additional funding restrictions and federal requirements to go into place next year.
In the meantime, OSDE will be required to monitor district compliance with all other regulations that have been waived for the last two school years, including limiting how districts can spend many of their federal dollars.
No Child Left Behind regulations also limit which schools may apply for certain grants, what annual targets must be set for improvement in each school, and even which schools are eligible for Title I funds. Most notably, NCLB regulations will require some schools to replace staff, change curriculum or possibly shut down.
The OSDE first applied for the flexibility waiver in November 2011, with the waiver eventually granted the following February.
But the signing into law of House Bill 3399 earlier this year placed Oklahoma’s waiver in danger.
The USDE requires all states applying for waivers to use standards that are considered college- and career-ready. HB 3399 required Oklahoma’s K-12 schools to return to using Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) standards in English Language Arts (ELA) and math for two years, during which time new academic standards would be crafted by Oklahomans.
Immediately following the passage of HB 3399, Supt. Barresi asked the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to review PASS standards in ELA and math for alignment with college- and career-ready guidelines. Higher education officials were unable to complete that task before the Aug. 12 deadline to submit the waiver’s extension request.
As a result, Oklahoma submitted its application without an assessment of PASS by higher education. USDE had indicated an assessment by higher education officials would be essential in determining the adequacy of PASS.
Now that the application has been rejected, Oklahoma schools will now fall back under the mandates of NCLB.
“Because the State Department of Education has oversight authority for a number of issues relating to federal education funds such as Title I, it will be critical that SDE personnel provide immense district technical assistance training on the rudiments of ESEA’s No Child Left Behind Act,” said Ramona Coats, SDE assistant state superintendent of federal programs.
“Districts will need a clear understanding of both fiscal and programmatic requirements regarding maintaining the integrity of both the program and the funds under ESEA. Some district superintendents are new to their positions this year and may have never served under ESEA compliance requirements. This will be a steep learning curve for some. For others, refresher trainings will be necessary.”
Upward of 90 percent of Oklahoma schools are expected to be affected to some degree by the loss of the waiver. Under NCLB, schools must meet 100-percent proficiency on a number of benchmarks to avoid being designated as a school in need of improvement. The number of failing schools in need of improvement could now swell from its current 490 to more than 1,600, according to NCLB definitions of failing.
“The loss of the waiver became all but inevitable with the passage of HB 3399. That became more of a certainty when higher education did not evaluate PASS to be college- and career-ready and the State Board of Education delayed starting the process toward new standards. The federal regulations being imposed on Oklahoma are counterproductive and overly rigid, but the time for hand-wringing is over,” said Barresi.
“Oklahoma must craft and implement outstanding academic standards for ELA and math that are college- and career-ready. To simply take PASS standards and attempt to improve them and call them college- and career-ready may satisfy the federal government to allow flexibility in spending, but it relegates our children to the same sad culture and set of expectations that existed when I entered office.”
Additional information: http://sde.ok.gov/sde/documents/2014-08-29/fwre-documents