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With Wash. State's NCLB Waiver Now Gone, Seattle Schools Seeks Its Own Exemption

Jacquelyn Martin
AP Photo
Seattle education officials have asked U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, pictured, to grant the district a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law. It's not clear how open federal officials will be to Seattle's request.

Earlier this year, Washington became the first state in the nation to lose its reprieve from the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Now, Seattle Public Schools wants to become the first district in the nation to regain that flexibility on its own.

Superintendent Jose Banda sent a letter Wednesday asking for a Seattle-specific waiver from the outdated federal law.

So far, federal education officials have almost exclusively granted the waiver to states, not individual districts. But Seattle Public Schools meets certain waiver conditions that Washington state does not. Seattle officials say the district, unlike the state, meets a mandate to use statewide standardized test data as part of the teacher's evaluation process, yet the state's waiver loss still means the district is losing control of more than $2.1 million in federal funding.

"In our mind, we don't have to change what we're doing in order to receive this waiver," said Clover Codd, Seattle Public Schools' director of strategic partnerships. "We're simply asking for flexibility over the dollars."

A waiver would also mean the district wouldn’t have to send a letter home to every parent informing the child’s school is “failing” under the standards defined by the No Child Left Behind Act. Since few, if any, schools in the state meet the federal law’s benchmarks, Washington state education officials have separately asked the feds to drop this requirement.

While most waivers are held by states, federal education officials did issue one to a coalition of eight California school districts, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, that applied jointly. 

But it's not clear how open federal officials will be to Seattle's individual request. Given how Washington state lost its flexibility in the first place — after the Legislature decided against passing changes to the state's teacher evaluation program — League of Education Voters CEO Chris Korsmo doesn't think Seattle's waiver application is likely to succeed.

"The Department of Education doesn't get much by establishing a precedent of allowing districts to get a waiver from what the state should've taken care of. As a quasi-political matter, it seems like a non-starter," she said. "But they could surprise us."

But Codd says, if approved, Seattle Public Schools would not have to make any changes to how it does business; the district already meets many of the waiver requirements as part of its participation in the Race to the Top federal grant program.

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