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Education Waiver Loss: Bad or Good?

The recent news of the loss of the federal waiver seems to be creating confusion about whether what happened is “good” or “bad.”

Allow me to skip the insider jargon and explain what happened. This runs the risk of oversimplifying, but I’ll let my critics concern themselves with that.

Background

The federal government gives states money for poor children in schools. The last time they wrote the rules for this was under George W. Bush in 2001, and they called it the “No Child Left Behind Act” (NCLB). The Act required:

  • states to measure learning rather than seat time,
  • annual growth of the number of students meeting a minimum level set by each state, and
  • all students to be at the minimum by 2014 (hence the name, “No Child Left Behind”).

If states’ schools don’t meet the goal, they have to start announcing their failure to the community, and they must start using a portion of the federal funds as parents’ desire for tutoring and other service options. This is why accounts of the loss of funds describe it as “losing control of” the funds.

“Waivers” to the federal law are granted if the state dances to the U.S. Department of Education’s tune. Among the current expectations, the federal agency wants teacher evaluation systems to consider data about student learning as measured by state tests.

WEA opposes policies which distinguish relative quality among teachers, and killed the bill to implement these changes earlier this year. As a result, on April 24th, the federal Department of Education withdrew the waiver.

Next steps. The NCLB requirement that districts set aside funds aside for parent-selected services goes into effect, and approximately $38 million in funds districts thought they could use must be set aside for supplemental education services if desired by families. Districts also return to the obligation to notify the community if student success rates are below the expected levels.

So is this “good” or “bad?”

WEA officials have been widely acknowledged as the cause of the soft teacher evaluation law, the loss of the waiver and the loss of control of the $38 million intended for the neediest students.

It is clearly bad for state policy to be set by a private, special interest group seeking to shield government employees from accountability—especially when that organization is propped up with special laws and favors granted by politicians who take a cut of forced union dues/fees as contributions.

It is scandalous for the legislature to allow WEA officials to force teachers to pay for overpriced workplace representation and use the excess to buy power, politicians and pressure campaigns.  

Some elements of the federal policy, however, are actually good. Things like:

  • Moving away from measuring “seat time” toward measuring learning,
  • Keeping the school system from sweeping unserved students under the rug,
  • Imposing consequences and transparency for schools failing their students,
  • Making a way for parents to use taxpayer funds like a voucher to get services for their children when the monopoly provider is falling short, and
  • Expecting that school employees be evaluated based upon how well they teach.

These promising policies could be adopted by any determined local school board. However, the dominance of union officials’ interests at the local bargaining table has created pressure for top-down mandates.

Some elements of the federal meddling are bad. Things like:

  • Dictating education policy as a condition of getting our own money,
  • Defining what counts as “bad service” from Washington, D.C., rather than simply empowering families to have and make choices about schooling,
  • The precedent of granting state legislatures the privilege of violating federal law when bureaucrats’ demands are met, and
  • Borrowing from the future to fund programs of today like NCLB.

The state action and the loss of the waiver have some silver linings by:

  • Telling the federal government, “thanks, but no thanks” in the face of capricious bureaucratic overreach and
  • Setting precedent for declining to bend to federal demands (such as Common Core State Standards).

Ultimately though, a robust system of options for families would be the more efficient path to quality schools than all of these policies and mandates in the factory of public education.

Listen to our Freedom Daily interview with Representative Chad Magendanz about the waiver loss here.