WASHINGTON — Minnesota will apply for a waiver to the No Child Left Behind law, Gov. Mark Dayton announced Monday, opting to take part in a Department of Education program that is spurred by Congress’s inability to pass reforms to the decade-old law.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the waiver program Monday as a way for states to apply alternate education standards that are “tight on goals and loose on the means for achieving those goals” in lieu of those required by NCLB, a program President Barack Obama had wanted reformed before the beginning of the school year in September.
Many schools are at risk of failing to meet NCLB’s national education standards and without a reform measure, they face funding cuts or even closures if they are unable to do so.
But the waivers would relieve states of penalties they may have racked up if they prove they have instituted measures to achieve better results from students. States for which the wavier requests fail — and Duncan warned there would be a high bar for states to prove they can meet new standards — will still need to follow NCLB’s provisions.
States that raise performance standards, take a “thoughtful approach” to evaluating educators and focus on improving underperforming schools or fixing the achievement gap would be more likely to receive the waivers, Duncan said in a conference call with reporters Monday.
Waivers spurred by a lack of congressional action
No Child Left Behind reform has been a key priority for both the Obama administration and Congress, and Minnesota Republican John Kline chairs the House committee given that task.
Kline and the administration have disagreed over the right path to take in order to institute reform. Administration officials and Democrats had hoped to pass one large reform bill, but Kline’s committee is going about it in a piecemeal fashion, having passed three reform bills this summer that cover different areas of federal education policy.
The first bill eliminates more than 40 federal education programs Republicans on the committee deemed to be duplicative, ineffective or unnecessary (some of those programs had been cut from President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal as well). The second bill, which received broad support, makes it easier for states to develop and expand charter schools. The third bill allows local school districts to use some federal education money for purposes other than those it was originally dedicated to. A spokeswoman said the committee will consider legislation related to teacher effectiveness and accountability in the fall.
But neither the full House nor the Senate acted on the plans, let alone a compromise proposal.
“We don’t have a bipartisan path the president would be willing to sign,” White House Domestic Policy Council director Melody Barnes said Monday. And without one, the president directed Duncan to begin preparing the waiver program, the final details of which will be released in September.
Kline and other Republicans on the committee have opposed the waiver plan, conducting a public back-and-forth with Duncan over its need and legality. On June 23, they sent him a letter asking for more information and a legal justification for the plan and they highlighted a report in early July warning of court challenges that could arise if a waiver was contingent on accepting standards not currently required by law.
In response to Duncan’s announcement Monday, Kline said in a statement, “I remain concerned that temporary measures instituted by the department, such as conditional waivers, could undermine the committee’s efforts to reauthorize the [law] … The House Education and the Workforce Committee has already advanced three pieces of legislation to reform current elementary and secondary education law, and we plan to complete our reauthorization package this fall.”
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.