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And the Control Goes to…

Wednesday, October 2, 2013 -- Nyla Benjamin

To paraphrase the 10th Amendment of the Constitution, powers not expressly granted to the federal government are the responsibility of the states. This concept has become the foundation for several high-profile, education-related disputes playing out between the United States Department of Education (USDOE) and several governors and their state education systems.

Since Congress is taking longer than anticipated to revamp and reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the USDOE, under Secretary Arne Duncan, has awarded flexibility waivers to states that meet specific criteria determined by USDOE leadership.  These waivers free states from some of the more burdensome requirements of the ESEA law that almost all agree is in dire need of a makeover.  Although some states have voiced concerns over the waiver process being a bit subjective at times, the flexibility provided has been enough of an incentive for several states to voluntarily jump through the necessary hoops to meet waiver requirements.  Recently, some states have begun to make different choices.

For example, in an effort to effectively transition to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the associated Smarter Balanced assessment, California’s Governor Jerry Brown is poised to sign into law Assembly Bill 484 which will suspend most of California’s accountability testing for one year.  The intent of the bill is in direct contrast to guidance from Secretary Duncan who said that if the bill is signed not only will he be unwilling to approve the state’s flexibility waiver request but hinted at possibly withholding a portion of the state’s Title I funding.

Texas also received negative feedback from the federal government on their preliminary flexibility waiver request that would have allowed students who passed their statewide assessment in the third and fifth grades to skip the tests in the fourth, sixth, and seventh grades.  The Federal government’s rationale is that it is unacceptable (and against federal law) to ostensibly weaken or put on hold an accountability system that provides insight to families and communities on how schools are performing.  States who do not meet the waiver requirements will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the ESEA law.

Florida’s Governor Rick Scott, last week announced an Executive Order recommending Florida rescind its role as the Fiscal Agent for the Partnership for Assessment of College and Careers (PARCC) which is developing an assessment for the CCSS.  In part, the executive order states that Florida “…will not tolerate the Federal government using such standards to coerce policy decisions at the state or local level on issues of assessment, curriculum, and instructional materials, which are within the Constitutional purview of Florida’s state and local governments…”

For now, we the public are in a wait and see pattern as these governmental powerhouses draw their lines in the sand.  The outcomes of these disputes could possibly impact millions of dollars in education funding but more importantly directly impact millions of students.  So, stay tuned.