Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.


California Readies Own Waiver Request

By Alyson Klein — May 04, 2012 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

So far, 11 have states have gotten wiggle room from No Child Left Behind’s accountability system, and 27 more are waiting to hear. Who’s not on the list? California, which has already said, basically, that it doesn’t think Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s waiver plan fits its needs.

But that doesn’t mean the state wants to stick with NCLB as it is. Instead, Michael Kirst, the state board president, and Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, have readied their own waiver request, which borrows some things from the department’s principles—but skips a key component: teacher evaluation.

Why? The cash-strapped state just doesn’t have the funds to help school districts cover the cost of a new evaluation plan, as state law requires, Kirst said.

“We’re saying we just can’t pay for it,” Kirst said. Other states that have applied for the flexibility “must be rich,” he joked.

And, in Kirst’s view, the waiver request is consistent with what’s actually in the NCLB law. “We do not see anything in the law about state mandates for teacher evaluation,” he said.

It’s worth noting that the powerful California State Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, has not been a fan of the administration’s brand of ESEA waivers.

“The administration’s waiver proposal process swaps one federal, top-down mandate for another and continues to hold states and local schools hostage to the same unproven reforms of the Race to the Top competition,” said CTA spokesman Mike Myslinski in an email. The union has ongoing concerns about standardized test scores playing a significant role in teacher evaluations.

Like other states that have applied for waivers, California is seeking to get out from under adequate yearly progress, the unpopular yardstick at the center of the NCLB law. It also wants to quit from having to set aside money for choice, tutoring, and professional development. (If the request is granted, that would be a big blow for tutoring providers across the country. One in nine public school kids is a Californian, by Kirst’s count.)

The state wants to go back to a made-over version of its pre-NCLB accountability system. It’s made some changes, including in the area of school improvement. The state board is scheduled to vote on the plan May 10. Kirst said it’s consistent with what board members have said they’re looking for.

But will this fly with the feds? It seems unlikely, given that the department has made it clear that the waiver plan is an-all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-deal. But Kirst is insistent that California is within its rights. “We believe the proposal fits within the standards of ESEA,” he told me. “We’re looking at the act [itself] and not necessarily things that go beyond it.”

Needless to say, California’s move brings up a ton of tricky political and legal issues. Republicans on Capitol Hill,—including the very influential Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a former Education Secretary—have been outspoken in their view that Duncan doesn’t have the authority to grant conditional ESEA waivers.

Now you have a school board president, appointed by a Democratic governor, and a Democratic state chief in one of the bluest states in the country challenging the whole conditional waiver process by coming up with something that doesn’t fit the mold.

Plus, if the feds turn California down, that would put even more pressure on the department to come up with some sort of waiver plan for districts, something that has already gotten a less-than-enthusiastic reception from state chiefs. But, if the feds go for it, won’t other states want to choose-their-own-waiver-adventure, too?

UPDATE: Chester E. Finn, Jr., the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who served in the department of education under President Ronald Reagan, has his own thoughts on the political stakes here. It’s an election year, he said, and so the department could get pressure from the White House to lay-off California. That’s happened in the past, Mr. Finn said, with another White House in another decade.

California may be safe for Democrats, but it’s such a big and high profile state that it might be bad politics for the administration to get into a tussle with the state. Finn’s guess? “I suspect [the feds] will come up with some sort of face-saving compromise,”

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP