Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah schools will continue to operate outside the bounds of No Child Left Behind during the upcoming school year.
On Friday, the State School Board voted unanimously to request an extension of Utah's waiver from the frequently criticized federal education law.
The extension request approved by the board — which is subject to approval by the U.S. Department of Education — includes several statements affirming Utah's right to control its standards, assessments and educator evaluations.
Those clarifications were made as part of an effort to reach a compromise on the issue, which has divided the board for several months and generated significant debate among educators, parents and policymakers.
"We do feel it’s a good compromise and we can move forward, protecting the rights of our state and control over our public education system while also getting some flexibility to the onerous demands of No Child Left Behind," board Chairman Dave Crandall said.
But while the board was able to come together on the decision, many were displeased that the waiver will continue.
Prior to the meeting, protesters lined 500 South outside the Utah State Office of Education, chanting "no more Common Core" and "kick the Core out the door" while waiving signs critical of federal intrusion into Utah schools.
The State School Board adopted the Common Core prior to and independent from requesting a waiver from No Child Left Behind. But those critical of the Core view the waiver's requirement for college- and career-ready standards as an implicit mandate that states adopt the Common Core.
Waiver opponents also worry about the message the state sends by accepting the waivers, which are seen by some as an inappropriate use of executive powers.
"The current administration is overstepping their authority with these waivers," said Alisa Ellis, a Wasatch County parent and education activist. "We have a runaway department of (education) who believe they are above the law."
No Child Left Behind requires that schools achieve 100 percent student proficiency on year-end tests or be labeled as failing and subject to financial and operational restrictions.
Without a waiver, effectively every school in the state would be labeled as a failing school and roughly $25 million in federal Title 1 funding would be set aside for federally mandated purposes.
Since receiving an initial waiver in 2012, Utah education officials have developed unique tests, teacher evaluations and a school accountability system for the state, all of which would have been threatened by returning to No Child Left Behind.
"They’ve all been in place for some time now, so (ending) this waiver would have slowed down some things that we feel are really helping us move along and improve education in the state," said Steve Carlsen, superintendent of Carbon School District and president of the Utah School Superintendents Association.
Board members were also accused of putting politics before the needs of students by considering a return to No Child Left Behind.
Ann Geary, a school board member from Logan who spoke on behalf of the Utah School Boards Association, said because the waiver affects Title 1 funding, the consequences of ending the waiver would be disproportionately felt by low-income students.
"You are considering dismantling these opportunities for our most vulnerable children so that you can make a political statement," Geary told board members. "It is unbelievable that you might return to greater federal control."
But those opposed to the waiver argued that the road to local control begins with the termination of Utah's waiver.
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