Washington state will be the first state to lose its waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act, the U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday.
Without the waiver, Washington will no longer be exempt from onerous parts of the federal education law, which set performance goals that schools across the country have been unable to meet.
School districts throughout Washington will have to redirect roughly $38 million in federal funding toward outside tutoring efforts next year, instead of using the Title I funds to pay for district programs for low-income students.
Districts will also have to set aside an additional 10 percent of their Title I funds – or roughly $19 million annually statewide – to pay for teacher training.
Also concerning to education leaders is that nearly every school in the state will be labeled as failing, since Washington schools have fallen short of the performance standards established under the federal law.
“Its incredibly disappointing because it was easily avoidable,” said state Sen. Steve Litzow, a Mercer Island Republican who chairs the state Senate’s education committee.
In a statement Thursday, Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee called the decision by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan "disappointing, but not unexpected."
Federal education officials told Washington education leaders in August that the Legislature must approve changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system to keep its waiver.
But lawmakers adjourned in March without requiring that student scores on state standardized tests be used as one factor in teacher evaluations. Current state law requires teacher and principal evaluations to consider student test scores, but lets districts choose which tests they will use – a status quo that the federal government has said is unacceptable.
Duncan said in a letter Thursday that the Legislature's lack of action on teacher evaluations was the reason for the loss of the state's waiver.
"..Washington has not been able to keep all of its commitments," Duncan said in the letter addressed to Washington schools chief Randy Dorn.
Dorn, the state superintendent of public instruction, blamed lobbying by the state teachers union for Washington lawmakers' failure to act, and now the state's loss of the federal waiver.
"Unfortunately the teachers union felt it was more important to protect their members than agree to that change and pressured the Legislature not to act," Dorn said in a statement Thursday.
But a spokesman for the union, Rich Wood, said "the Legislature did the right thing this past session" by rejecting proposals to change the state's new teacher and principal evaluation system, which school districts are using for the first time this year.
"We have a great new evaluation system we’re implementing," said Wood, speaking on behalf of the Washington Education Association. "What Secretary Duncan was trying to force on our state was going to derail that."
No Child Left Behind says that all students must be passing state math and reading tests this year. State officials predict that "nearly all schools" in Washington won't meet the standards going forward, OSPI spokeswoman Kristen Jaudon said Thursday. She questioned whether that means the schools are actually failing, though.
"Not meeting 100 percent proficiency could mean they're at 99 percent," Jaudon said. "I think it would be a stretch to classify that school as failing.”
Still, without the federal waiver, school districts will have to set aside 20 percent of their Title I money in the coming 2014-2015 school year for tutoring and other academic help.
Most schools and districts throughout Washington will also be required to send letters home to parents explaining how they are underperforming, Jaudon said.
State Rep. Pat Sullivan, a Covington Democrat who is the majority leader in the state House, said blame for Washington’s present situation lies with Congress. He said federal lawmakers need to “get their act together” and amend the No Child Left Behind Act, which he called “a flawed accountability system that just doesn’t work.”
Forty-two other states have waivers from No Child Left Behind.
“The only blame I see is on the federal government,” Sullivan said.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement Thursday that she will work with her colleagues in Congress to “update the outdated No Child Left Behind law.”
In the meantime, school districts must follow the law, outdated or not.
Tacoma school superintendent Carla Santorno said the loss of the waiver was “sad news” for her district, which predicts it will have to divert $1.8 million of its $9 million in Title I funding in the coming school year.
That money right now funds preschool programs in low-income neighborhoods and instructional coaches at low-income schools, Santorno said.
While the district may choose to trim its budget elsewhere, “those programs are at risk,” district spokesman Dan Voelpel said.
“We will have to make budget cuts, yes,” Voelpel said Thursday. “We just haven’t yet identified what.”
Frank Hewins, superintendent of the Parkland-based Franklin Pierce School District, said loss of the waiver will mean less flexibility in how his district spends more than $500,000 of its anticipated $1.8 million in federal Title I dollars next year.
This year, he said, the district -- with a 70-percent poverty rate -- used the money for instructional coaches and other specialists who supported classroom teachers in their work.
“We will tighten our belts,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we are going to change any of the work we do.”
Hewins spoke to The News Tribune on the same day six Franklin Pierce schools were being honored by Washington state for making academic progress. Under No Child Left Behind, those schools will now be deemed failing schools. “We are making progress,” he said. “This doesn’t help us in doing it.”