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WAIVE GOODBYE: Washington Becomes First State to Lose ESEA Waiver

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"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.”

When the U.S. Department of Education announced a new “streamlined” process for how states could request a renewal to extend their waivers from certain requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in November, some observers said the new streamlined process made it highly unlikely that a state would lose its waiver. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, however, was of a different mind and warned that the department would likely revoke “a waiver or two or three.” Duncan made good on his warning on April 24 when he pulled the state of Washington’s waiver for failing to tie teacher and principal evaluations to student learning growth on state assessments.

“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 wrote in a letter to Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction 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.”

Without a waiver, Washington and its school districts must resume implementing the Title I requirements outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act, including setting aside 20 percent of Title I funds for public school choice and supplemental educational services. The state will also have to revert to measuring schools based on Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

In a statement, Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) blamed the state legislature for not taking action to save the state’s waiver. “The loss of this waiver could have been avoided if the state legislature had acted last session,” Inslee said. “The waiver provided districts flexibility to use nearly $40 million in federal funds to support struggling students. 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.”

Duncan left open the possibility of renewing Washington’s waiver in the future. “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,” Duncan wrote.

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