Wyoming Department of Education officials say feedback about an application to waive federal education requirements has been positive. However, Superintended of Public Instruction Cindy Hill opposes the waiver and says she’s not the only one with concerns.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind, requires that all children must test at least proficient for their grade levels by 2014. Until last week, Wyoming was one of six states that had not received or applied for a flexibility waiver, according to the U.S. Department of
As the state fleshes out its application, officials are seeking more feedback, according to department officials.
Hill believes strings attached to a waiver would increase time on bureaucratic tasks at the expense of instruction. Yet, department officials say a chief advantage of a waiver would be to reduce such burdens on districts and schools by aligning state reform efforts with federal requirements. The state already is poised to meet requirements of a waiver because of its developing reform efforts outlined in the Wyoming Accountability in Education Act, according to department officials.
“That system is very well aligned to the federal priorities,” said David Holbrook, the state education department’s federal programs unit leader.
The waiver would allow Wyoming to use its own rating system based on how all schools in the state are performing, as opposed to an arbitrary measure of all students needing to be 100 percent proficient by 2014, he said.
Most, if not all, schools won’t reach federal requirements, Holbrook added.
Wyoming schools and districts face no direct financial penalty for not making No Child Left Behind requirements. However, there are significant financial impacts in how federal funds can be used, Holbrook said. The waiver would allow greater flexibility to use funds in ways local officials think are more appropriate, he noted.
In short, Holbrook said, a waiver would allow the state to focus school improvement funds in areas where they are most needed: the lowest performing schools in the state.
Hill called the waiver application a unilateral move by Gov. Matt Mead. Mead discussed a waiver request with federal Department of Education officials while attending a governors’ conference Feb. 22-25 in Washington, D.C. The Wyoming Department of Education filed the waiver request Feb. 28.
“There will be more bureaucracy,” Hill said. “I’m afraid there will be more consultants and more reporting and more possible testing. I’d rather have a focus on instruction versus more bureaucracy. This will be compliance focused, and we’ll be seeing more of what was happening prior to me coming into office: compliance and that top-down approach.”
State Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, believes the waiver will help Wyoming proceed with its accountability effort.
“I thought we probably should have done it before,” Rothfuss said. “I think it’s a natural approach to ensure that we’re not going to be penalized because we’re trying to upgrade our system of education.”
Ryan Thomas is the Uinta County School District co-superintendent. He supports the waiver because as a small, rural district, some of the federal responsibilities don’t match the student population. He said a major issue with No Child Left Behind is that it doesn’t take into account improvement, such as students learning English.
Some students come into their first classroom in this country and to expect them to read at grade level isn’t realistic, he said.
“The amount of growth we get in those kids is truly remarkable,” Thomas said.
Jay Harnack is superintendent of Sublette County School District 1. He supports the waiver because federal requirements are unreachable. He said a major weakness of No Child Left Behind is that it assumes what works for one population of students will work for another. But schools, districts and states deal with very different challenges, he added.
Energy industry-driven Pinedale has a high rate of mobility but not a high rate of poverty, he said.
“A lot of the flexibility in the waivers will allow the state to provide us with greater flexibility in how we use federal funds to address the needs we see in our district,” he said.
Bob Bonnar, a school board trustee at Weston County School District 1, has concerns about the waiver because he doesn’t know if the consequences are any better understood than they were for No Child Left Behind.
He hears contrasting opinions about what a waiver would mean from people he considers experts. And it’s letting Congress off the hook, Bonnar added.
“If those states had all stuck together and not applied for a waiver, it would have forced Congress to reauthorize the act,” Bonnar said.
“I’ve never been comfortable with Wyoming joining the fray and seeking waivers from No Child Left Behind,” Bonnar said. “I’d just as soon we go in and force Congress to fix problems with the law. We’re bailing them out by taking waivers.”
Mark Mathern is the associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the Natrona County School District. He said there are often good local solutions that aren’t recognized at national level.
“If there ever is an opportunity to expand the flexibility of use of funding, for example, that’s always good,” he said.