U.S. education official: Washington waiver not dead

No Child Left Behind issue could cost state $40 million

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SEATTLE — Despite legislative inaction on a teacher evaluation bill, the U.S. Department of Education on Friday said Washington state’s waiver from some requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law is not dead yet.

“We continue to work with Washington officials on their request for flexibility,” said Dorie Nolt, press secretary for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Duncan will be attending the meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers in Washington, D.C., on Monday. Washington Superintendent Randy Dorn said he did not expect to get any one-on-one time with Duncan at the meeting he will also attend.

But Dorn said on Friday his office has been in an ongoing conversation with Duncan’s office throughout the legislative session.

“I’d surely like to talk to him to see if there’s anything we can do,” Dorn said, adding, however, “I don’t think we’ll get a waiver.”

Dorn said he didn’t know if some part of the waiver was still salvageable.

“I don’t know how much flexibility they’re talking about. We’ll definitely continue to talk,” he said.

If school districts can’t salvage the waiver, Washington’s public school system stands to lose control over how it spends about $40 million in federal funds. That Title I money has been used in different ways in every school district that gets money for special help for low-income children.

Some districts added teachers, some spent money on preschool for low-income kids, and others put more kids in all-day kindergarten, for example. If they lose that flexibility, they will need to go back to spending much of the Title I money on outside tutors and teacher training.

Gov. Jay Inslee met with Duncan a few weeks ago to talk about Washington’s waiver from No Child Left Behind, which the federal government said was in jeopardy.

Duncan told Inslee he would allow Washington to keep the waiver, which was granted conditionally in July 2012, only if the state Legislature changed the state’s teacher evaluation law to require the use of student test results on teacher evaluations.

Current law recommends the use of statewide test scores in teacher evaluations, but does not require them. Teacher contracts are locally bargained between the teacher’s union and individual school districts.

Most states have been given a waiver as a temporary measure while Duncan works with Congress to rewrite the federal education law. Last August, federal officials said Washington was one of three states to not meet the requirements of its waiver.

Inslee promoted the change in state law during the legislative session that ended late Thursday, despite opposition from the Washington Education Association, but lawmakers could not reach a compromise on the issue and did not pass any of the bills concerning it.

The Republican chairman of the Senate Education Committee blamed the Democrats for not allowing the issue to come to a vote in the House and for helping defeat it in the Senate.

“I’m extraordinarily disappointed,” said Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island. “I find it odd that the teachers union has that kind of sway over the Democratic Party.”

Litzow commended the governor and Dorn for making a good effort toward settling this issue and expressed concerns about the school districts that would be losing control of millions of federal dollars.

The governor expressed sadness that he couldn’t get it done.

“This was a bittersweet session for our children,” Inslee said.

He said he was happy the state budget puts another $58 million toward public schools and passed a bill that would give state college financial aid to students who don’t have legal status in the United States. He also commended lawmakers for boosting the state’s high school diploma toward a 24-credit requirement for the class of 2019.

He expressed disappointment about the waiver and said he wanted to see teachers get a raise and promised to make teacher salaries a priority next year.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan told KUOW public radio the testing mandate from the federal government was flawed and that he was prepared to pay the penalty.

“So be it,” he said. “If Arne Duncan wants to withhold 20 percent of funds from our poorest schools, then I guess that’s his prerogative.”