As we mentioned last week, it looks increasingly likely that the Department of Education will soon be issuing waivers to states for selected No Child Left Behind (NCLB) provisions. Such waivers would exempt states and districts that receive them from having to comply with particular provisions of NCLB – the Bush era incarnation of the 1965 Elementary & Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – while still receiving federal funding under the law.
Save the Champagne
But before you start celebrating the long-awaited demise of NCLB, consider the good stuff that's in the original ESEA law that states might try to have waived. What one state might see as "regulatory relief," students and teachers might see as programming cuts. For instance, Title I contains numerous provisions requiring schools that receive such aid to spend it on programs that help specific groups of students (typically low-income students of color). A percentage of Title I funds must be spent on parental engagement or after school tutoring, for instance.
We don't know what types of regulatory waivers Secretary Duncan is going to issue in light of Congressional failure to reauthorize, rethink, and rework ESEA. Yet, that point in itself seems pretty illuminating. A single public official – Arne Duncan – is preparing to tell the states that certain parts of federal law can simply be ignored. Wow.
Living With Uncertainty
To be fair, the Administration will likely waive the bad stuff in NCLB; the AYP requirements that states seemincreasingly incapable of meeting. The old test-based regime that results in school closures and disruptive punitive measures is something that should be ignored, but what we really need is a workable reauthorization of ESEA so the Dept. of Education no longer needs to ride a fine legal line. It's not going to happen, but one can dream...
In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for the first waivers. Several states, including Michigan and Tennessee (of Race to the Top fame), have already applied. Georgia's getting ready to follow suit. Whatever waiver packages Duncan doles out and whatever its terms might be will give us a heads up regarding funding and programming cuts. Then, depending on the fallout, we'll see how Congress reacts as the new school year begins.