Loss of No Child Left Behind waiver means complications for Federal Way schools

The United States Department of Education announced last week that the federal government was pulling Washington state’s waiver from the onerous requirements of the No Child Left Behind

The United States Department of Education announced last week that the federal government was pulling Washington state’s waiver from the onerous requirements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education law, opening state schools back up to those difficult, and many feel, unrealistic requirements.

For Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS), the waiver’s removal means that funding will have to be redirected, and additional pressure will be put on the district’s schools, especially those that don’t meet the metric known as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

“The first implication of the loss of the waiver to Federal Way Public Schools is that we are required to set aside 20 percent of our Title 1 dollars (between $800,000 and $1 million to FWPS) to pay for federally-mandated measures,” wrote district communications director Debra Stenberg in an email to the Mirror. “The return to annual yearly progress and No Child Left Behind means we will once again be required to comply with a complicated set of sanctions that vary from school to school, depending on whether they have or have not met annual yearly progress, and depending on how many years they have not met AYP.”

In February 2012, the Mirror reported that a large portion of FWPS had a difficult time meeting that AYP standard. The report noted that 27 of the 40 schools in FWPS were unable to meet AYP for 2010-11, according to OSPI statistics. Of the 27 schools unable to meet AYP, 14 are Title I schools.

Along with this, NCLB had a “stepped” progression of measures for schools to take for each year that they failed to meet AYP. From that 2012 report, the Mirror also found that five FWPS schools — Decatur High School, Federal Way High School, Kilo Middle School, Thomas Jefferson High School and Totem Middle School — were at the upper end of the AYP “discipline” program. At that upper end, some of the measures are quite drastic and include schools undergoing “restructuring,” and choosing certain recommendations, such as replacing “all or most relevant staff,” contracting with an outside entity to operate the school, undergoing a state takeover of the school if the state agrees to do so, or undertaking any other major restructuring.

And while it seems like FWPS had a disproportionately high number of schools failing to meet AYP, nearly two out of three schools in Washington state in 2011 were failing by NCLB standards. This was one of the reasons State Superintendent Randy Dorn sought the waiver from NCLB in the first place.

Dorn placed this new complication on the state’s education issues squarely in the lap of the state’s teacher union, the Washington Education Association.

“Washington state has been doing great work under our waiver agreement,” Dorn said in an April 24 press release. “We have developed our own system that more accurately reflects the progress being made by schools across the state. But to get our waiver renewed for next year, the Department of Education was clear: The Legislature needed to amend state law to require teacher and principal evaluations to include student growth on state tests, when appropriate. I agree: Student progress should be one of multiple elements in a teacher’s evaluation. Unfortunately, the teacher’s union felt it was more important to protect their members than agree to that change and pressured the Legislature not to act.”

However, Gov. Jay Inslee said the loss of the waiver “could have been avoided” if the Legislature acted last session.

“The waiver provided districts flexibility to use nearly $40 million in federal funds to support struggling students,” Inslee said in a press release. “Loss of that funding means those districts now face potential impacts that could include laying off some of Washington’s tremendous teachers or cutting back on programs that serve at-risk students. I hope districts will work to mitigate impacts on students. I know that despite this setback, Washington teachers remain fully committed to serving our students.”

According to Dorn’s office, “districts that do not meet AYP are required to ‘set aside’ 20 percent of their Title I funds they may receive from the federal government. This money must be reserved either for private vendors to provide tutoring or to bus students who want to transfer to a school that did not fail to meet AYP.”

The state superintendent’s office notes that any of that unused money is eventually returned to districts, but typically at a point where it can’t be incorporated into the given school year’s budget.

To learn more, visit www.k12.wa.us.