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Washington Becomes First State To Lose 'No Child Left Behind' Waiver

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pulled Washington state's waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act on Thursday, making it the first state to lose flexibility from the outdated law.

The move revokes Washington school districts' flexibility in spending nearly $40 million in federal funding tied to the law, and replaces many of the 2001 law's most stringent rules designed to hold schools accountable for students' test scores.

"Today’s news from Secretary Duncan is disappointing but not unexpected," Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement. "I hope districts will work to mitigate impacts on students. I know that despite this setback Washington teachers remain fully committed to serving our students."

Back To 'Spending The Money On Things That We Know Don’t Work'

Some school leaders say even though the federal money isn't going away, the fallout could resemble budget cuts in some classrooms as districts divert money from services they started offering with the waiver's flexibility to comply once again with the law.

“We’re being forced to go back to an old method of spending the money on things that we know don’t work," said Tacoma Public Schools spokesman Dan Voelpel whose district expanded preschool offerings with funds freed by the waiver. "We know the kids in Tacoma. We know what our low-income students need.”

Federal officials had given Washington a waiver with the understanding that state lawmakers would eventually pass a law linking teacher evaluation results to students' scores on statewide standardized tests. But state lawmakers left Olympia last session without passing such a law, largely at the urging of the state's largest teachers union.

"The Legislature listened to teachers," said Washington Education Association spokesman Rich Wood, "and rejected a failed, bureaucratic mandate coming out of Washington, D.C. that had nothing to do with what was in the best interests of our kids or our teachers."

Washington schools are now once again subject to the No Child Left Behind Act’s rating system for schools. As crafted in 2001, the law rated schools based on their progress towards ensuring 100 percent of students showed basic proficiency on standardized tests by 2014.

Dorn: 'The Legislature, I Believe, Didn't Do The Right Thing'

Without the waiver, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn says the law will label nearly all Washington schools as underperforming, which the same law requires schools to communicate to parents in a formal letter if the schools fail to make "adequate yearly progress.”

"It's an outdated mathematical mechanism that makes no sense, that Congress can't fix, that we have to go back to," Dorn said. "To me, that's just criminal."

Dorn says the teachers union's opposition to the teacher evaluation bill that the feds wanted was critical to its defeat in the Legislature.

"I was upfront [with state lawmakers]: 'You don't do this. We're not going to get the waiver.'" Dorn said. "It's not Arne Duncan's fault. They produced waivers so we could get out from under No Child Left Behind … The Congress couldn't do their job in reauthorizing [the law], so Congress didn't do their job. Then the Legislature, I believe, didn't do the right thing."

Wood points out both Republicans and Democrats opposed changing the teacher evaluation law, and says federal education officials weren't being flexible.

"There's absolutely no evidence or proof or research to indicate that what Secretary Duncan was trying to force on us in Washington state around the use of those test scores would've done anything to strengthen learning or teaching," Wood said.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.