No Child Left Behind is a huge overreach of the Federal government into education. It arguably violates the Tenth Amendment. As of 2014, every student in every school is supposed to pass our statewide tests, no matter what. If not, the Title 1 schools (low income) that receive Federal Title 1 funds will have to set aside 20% of those Title 1 funds to use in transportation to another (non-failing) school, before and after school tutoring programs, and professional development. In Alpine, we will be receiving about $9 million in Title 1 funds this year, and so $1.8 million, instead of being used however we see fit in the schools, will need to be set aside for those reasons this year. This is about 0.3% of our entire budget for this year.
The US Department of Education has (magnanimously) offered a waiver for these past two years, allowing schools more flexibility with that 20%. They have done so, in exchange for our agreement to adopt Common Core Standards*, Common Core Testing (SAGE), School and Teacher grading that is tied to the testing, and a central database on students, teachers, test scores--called reduction of duplication or something. Two years ago, our State Board decided they were okay doing these things, and applied for the waiver. At this point, they have the option of applying to extend the waiver.
Before I get into my analysis of the problem and why I believe not renewing the waiver is the appropriate course of action, let me give you my proposed solution.
1. The State Board should develop its own Waiver that has similar flexibility arrangements to those the Dept of Ed is suggesting. HOWEVER, they should not put any of the 'assurances' that the Dept of Ed wants to say are a condition of the Waiver. They are not required by law, and in fact, probably violate both state and federal laws.
2. The State Legislature should allocate $26 million to the schools to cover the lack of flexibility that will occur until such time as a waiver is granted. (So contact the Governor and your State Reps and get their commitment to doing this. $26 million from the state budget is a small price to pay to get rid of this level of federal overreach.)
3. Local school districts would need to provide at least some of that money to the Title 1 schools in the short term, with the promise of receiving a reimbursement from the state after the next legislative session.
4. Contact your Senators and your local Congressman. Tell them to repeal NCLB, right away.
The State Board has the right to request a Waiver from the Feds, at any time. They do NOT have to accept the waiver that the Dept. of Ed is proposing. The Waiver is allowed under NCLB and does not specify they have to accept any requirements that come from the Feds. The State Board is to propose a State plan and justify why waiving certain penalties and requirements will allow them to make their goals more readily. Under NCLB, the waiver is supposed to be entirely of the State's own creation. Furthermore, the Feds are not supposed to have any say in curriculum, standards, testing, or teaching materials. In short, requiring the Common Core standards or SAGE testing as a condition of the Waiver would, itself, violate NCLB.
Additionally, some State Board members have met with legislative leaders who were supportive about allocating an additional $26 million to the schools to offset the amount schools would lose in having to accommodate those NCLB requirements. The only downside is that the schools would need to have enough in their savings to cover that amount until the legislature can make that change in their next session in January. So, for Alpine School District, we would need to allocate $1.8 million from our savings to our Title 1 schools to make up that difference. Then the expectation is that the State would reimburse us in June or July of next year. Since we finished off our fiscal year with almost $10 million in savings in our general fund, this would be do-able.
Here is my answer, and it's based on principle, not on practicality.
: a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions
: a basic truth or theory : an idea that forms the basis of something
: likely to succeed and reasonable to do or use
While my comments do no reflect the Alpine School District's Board of Education, they do reflect the thoughts of myself, and my fellow board members, Brian Halladay and Paula Hill.
We are asking you to not renew the NCLB Waiver. The decision you have before you is really about who will control education in Utah. A prisoner has complete freedom to walk wherever he chooses, as long as he stays within the confines of his prison cell. So too, we have been promised complete freedom over education in Utah, as long as we stay within the confines of the dictates of the US Department of Ed. With each iteration of the waiver, the Department of Ed can change Utah's education system unilaterally. Also, there is little motivation to fix NCLB, since the Waiver is seen as an acceptable Band-Aid. More importantly, however, the Waiver empowers the Department of Ed to dictate education policy directly to the states, completely independent of Congress. All it takes is for us to voluntarily comply with their power-grab.
Whether you agree or disagree with the intent, outcomes, or motivation of the Department of Ed, providing this amount of power over the education of students in Utah to an unelected body is not something any American should be comfortable with.
For Alpine school district, Title 1 funding is 1.7% of our budget. From NCLB, it appears we would still receive all Title 1 monies. We would lose flexibility in spending 20% of it, or 0.3% of our total budget. Just three-tenths of one percent! This amount isn't lost, merely reallocated. Due to great management in our district, we finished the fiscal year with 2.5% of our general fund budget remaining--more than 5 times what we would need to allocate to comply with NCLB. Would we like the flexibility to spend that three-tenths? Yes. But not at the cost of abdicating our responsibility for educating our kids to the whims of the US Department of Ed.
One of the fears in standing up against this waiver is the threatened loss of additional federal funds. However, recently the Supreme Court reaffirmed that the federal government could not withhold funding from other programs if a state refuses one particular program. Chief Justice John Roberts ruled, “The states are separate and independent sovereigns. Sometimes they have to act like it.”
We are asking you to help us act like a sovereign state. Reject the encroachment of the federal Department of Ed on Utah's children. Why do we assume that they know better what the children in Utah need than those of us sitting here, and their parents and teachers? To be blunt, they don't. We shouldn't give them the power act like it.