The Department of Education has talked openly about the waivers of federal requirements it has granted to states and school districts.
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings made a high-profile 2005 speech, for instance, to announce pilot projects for growth models for accountability under the No Child Left Behind Act. She also readily promised leniency for states and districts affected by the hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.
Despite its openness with the public, the department forgot to formally notify Congress, according to a report this month from the Education Department’s inspector general’s office.
In a review of 197 waivers granted under NCLB from 2002 through 2006, the inspector general found that the department never reported them to Congress as required by the No Child Left Behind law. It also didn’t publish formal notification of the waivers in the Federal Register, which the law requires as well.
In the Education Department’s March 27 response to a draft of the report, a department official acknowledged the lack of notification but downplays the department’s inaction.
The NCLB law doesn’t set a deadline for notifying Congress of waivers or for noting them in the Federal Register, wrote Kerri L. Briggs, the acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. Since 2002, the department has given “very few substantive waivers,” Ms. Briggs wrote. More than half concerned administrative spending in programs for American Indians.
Ms. Briggs added that department officials did tell members of Congress when waivers were granted to their states or to school districts they represent. The department also is planning to send a formal report to Congress, she said.
In addition to the waivers for Indian programs, the department has allowed five states to use so-called growth models for accountability under the NCLB law. It also has permitted six districts to provide tutoring before offering school choice to students in low-performing schools, reversing the order called for under the law. In 2005 and 2006, it issued 18 waivers to states and districts affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
In the April 5 audit report, Helen Lew, an assistant inspector general, recommended that the department send an annual report to Congress listing the waivers it has granted, and to “regularly” publish notices in the Federal Register about such waivers.
A version of this article appeared in the April 18, 2007 edition of Education Week