States Express Concern Over Price Tag for NCLB Waivers

Published January 27, 2012

As the February deadline approached for states to submit No Child Left Behind waiver applications to the U.S. Department of Education, some states decided to reject the offer or delay their applications, citing the expense of waiver requirements.

The DOE announced in September 2011 it would waive some of the law’s requirements for states adopting policies the Obama administration prefers. The federal NCLB law grants the DOE waiver authority, but not authority to require certain policies in exchange.

“We view the entire ‘wavier’ discussion as a replacement option for existing law,” said Dennis Parman, Montana’s deputy superintendent. “There certainly are states that are in a better position to seek a waiver because they have elements already underway or are in a place that would make transitioning a reasonable lift. Montana is not one of those states.”

Initially, 39 states and DC said they would request waivers. Eleven have done so.

To receive a waiver, the DOE stipulated, states must adopt Common Core State Standards and focus improvement efforts on 15 percent of their lowest-performing schools. States would also be obliged to create teacher- and principal-evaluation systems.

Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina education officials have all spoken positively about aspects of the waivers, saying allowing more state control would improve upon current education systems and regulations.

Billions to Implement Requirements
A fiscal analysis by the California State Board of Education in January concluded the cost of funding programs the waiver required would run between $2.4 and 3.1 billion for the state, which would “likely exceed net savings from waived SES and choice requirements.”

Montana decided to oppose the waivers and ignore NCLB sanctions. State officials said the waivers’ cost and mandates would harm Montana’s education system.

“There are no additional funds from the department to implement the waiver, and no guarantee that when ESEA [the Elementary and Secondary Education Act] is reauthorized it will include all of the requirements of the waiver,” Parman said. “Most Montana schools know what works for their students and communities. We don’t want to engage in reform for the sake of reform when we see no evidence it will improve of quality of education already being provided to Montana students.” 

California State Superintendent Tom Torlakson sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in August, voicing unease over the stipulations and expense a waiver would entail.

Some States Undecided
Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming, and California are among the states expressing concern over NCLB waivers.

In Nebraska, education officials recently spent money to create and implement state accountability programs that do not meet waiver criteria.

California education officials said waivers are not financially feasible.

“The state is in a financial crisis, and has had $18 billion cut in the last four fiscal years,” said Tina Jung, information officer for California’s superintendent.

California’s board of education has so far declined to apply for a waiver, instead proposing a possible timeline for the state to apply for a future waiver, reliant on increased financial stability.

Questionable Waiver Authority
Reauthorizing and reforming NCLB is a long-awaited step for the education system after a decade of criticism, but some disagree with the administration’s use of waivers.

“[The U.S. education secretary] doesn’t have the authority to waive the law,” said Sally Lovejoy, a chief policy negotiator for the U.S. House during NCLB’s creation and now an American Action Forum analyst. “He’s trying to implement and make the law, which is labor policy, and unconstitutional.”

Lovejoy said she worries Duncan is trying to control states through the waiver process.

Advocating ‘True Flexibility’
Montana officials are working toward education reform without a NCLB waiver. 

“We are engaged in several reform efforts at the state level now, but we do it with our public education partners: teachers, administrators, and school boards,” Parman said. “We will continue to advocate for true flexibility that fits the rural nature of our state. We continue to see laws being made by Congress intended to meet the needs of students in metropolitan areas, and we have many small towns of only 200 people.”


Image by Razvan Caliman.