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Utah education leaders debate return to No Child Left Behind

Published June 6, 2014 7:30 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

State education leaders are considering abandoning Utah's waiver to the No Child Left Behind law, partly as a statement about federal interference in Utah schools.

The state school board spent more than an hour Friday debating whether to ask the federal government for an extension of the waiver for 2015. The waiver allows Utah to skip many of the most reviled parts of the No Child Left Behind law, including Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measurements and the expectation that 100 percent of students score proficient in language arts and math by this year.

If Utah gave up its waiver, the state would have to go back to those requirements and would likely have to shift more than $100 million in federal Title I and related money to other programs.

Board members discussed Friday asking state lawmakers if they'd be willing to help schools make up the difference by allocating more money to education should Utah refuse the waiver. Several noted that Utah's waiver is unpopular among some state lawmakers and members of Utah's congressional delegation who worry that Utah has bound itself to the federal government.

In exchange for accepting the waiver several years ago, Utah had to promise the feds it would implement a plan to address college and career readiness for all students, and the state agreed to use Common Core academic standards.

State and federal education leaders have repeatedly said the state is not tied to those Common Core standards because of the waiver, but opponents of the standards have remained skeptical.

"We get beat up by our federal delegation, with a couple of exceptions, for having taken the waiver and yet I see no rush on the part of our federal delegation to fix No Child Left Behind," said board member Dave Thomas, "and maybe we should give them some kind of an incentive."

The U.S. Department of Education began offering waivers several years ago when it became clear that Congress was nowhere near reforming No Child Left Behind.

"I wouldn't want us to do anything that would harm students," added board member Dan Griffiths, "but I also think we need to consider solutions that involve some element of risk."

Board member Kim Burningham, however, called the discussion "dangerous talk" unless the board can get assurance from lawmakers that they'd replace the federal dollars. State Associate Superintendent Judy Park also noted that the waiver has allowed Utah much more state control over school accountability.

The board voted Friday to postpone a decision on applying for the waiver extension. But if the state wants to extend its waiver, it would have to apply within 60 days of receiving a report from the feds that's expected soon, meaning the board will have to revisit the issue in coming months.