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State School Board postpones decision on NCLB waiver

Published: Thursday, July 17 2014 8:25 p.m. MDT

"We just really feel like we don’t know what doing away with this waiver means, and we really don’t feel like (the State School Board) knows either," Carlsen said. "Wait to make your decision when you’re more fully informed."

A motion to extend the waiver, with the understanding that the state could withdraw at any time in the future, was made by board member Kim Burningham.

But that decision was instead postponed as board members expressed a need for a legal review of the waivers' constitutionality, greater input from the state's education stakeholders and a more in-depth review of how No Child Left Behind would impact the finances of public schools.

"We now have to ask permission from the federal government if we want to change, and that’s something I’m not comfortable with," board chairman David Crandall said. "We need to take a careful look at what we’re getting into this second time."

Thursday's meeting included a video conference with Kirsten Baesler, superintendent of public instruction for North Dakota. Baesler said her state had not applied for a waiver from No Child Left Behind and added that educators determined the financial impact would be minimal and were uncomfortable with how the Department of Education had undercut the law of the land.

"We don’t feel, I don’t feel, that we should be operating under any type of provisions that haven’t been approved by our federally elected officials," she said.

But Baesler's comments also highlighted a number of differences between North Dakota and Utah, particularly her state's level of per-pupil spending, which was recently increased and is roughly three times the level appropriated to Utah schools.

Baesler also said that even without a waiver, educators in her state had determined the Common Core to be an improvement to the state's standards, and the Core was subsequently adopted into the North Dakota Core.

Burningham noted the disparate funding levels between North Dakota and Utah, suggesting it allowed educators there to more easily absorb funds lost by being labeled failing under the requirements of No Child Left Behind.

"They have a lot more money than we have to deal with their students," he said. "It would be much easier to play around with things if you had more money to work within, and we do not and our students are hurt because of it."

Board member Jennifer Johnson noted that the funds affected by No Child Left Behind at most would be 30 percent of all state Title 1 funds and that those funds would be not lost but reallocated by federal statute.

But board member Debra Roberts commented that changes in Title 1 funding have an adverse affect on students who require the greatest assistance.

"What counts to me is the immediate impact on individual students who are our most vulnerable students," Roberts said, "and there would be an absolutely immediate impact on those kids."

Several board members expressed that they had received verbal assurances from state legislators that funding lost to No Child Left Behind sanctions could be recouped during the upcoming legislative session.

But other board members cautioned against relying on future funds that may or not materialize at the expense of losses that would immediately impact school districts.

"To pull the rug out like that, how can we expect education to continue in Utah this year if we do something like this?" board member Barbara Corry said. "I think we need to try and smooth it enough so that everyone involved in education is not destroyed."

At a media event earlier in the day, Gov. Gary Herbert announced that he was directing the attorney general's office to conduct a review of the state's participation in the Common Core State Standards and the No Child Left Behind Waiver.

Herbert said the purpose of the review would be to determine whether the waiver had forced the state to cede local control of education to the federal government, but he added that the choice to extend or abandon the waiver remains with the State School Board.

"I wouldn’t tell (the school board) what to do, but I know they’ll do the appropriate thing as they do that analysis," the governor said. "I expect they’ll come up with the right decision."

Herbert also criticized Congress for failing to act on the antiquated and embattled No Child Left Behind Law, and urged Utah's federal representatives to work toward a solution at the national level.

"I call upon our congressional delegation to lead the effort to fix No Child Left Behind," he said. "Utah should not be forced, nor should other states for that matter be forced, into the position of increased federal intrusion due to the impossible benchmarks that NCLB sets. This is a problem that Congress has the responsibility to address."

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com, Twitter: bjaminwood

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