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Is Spellings Stretching Waiver Authority Too Far?

The pilot projects for growth models and differentiated accountability have gotten a lot of notice since Margaret Spellings became secretary in 2005. But Spellings also has been granting waivers regarding public school choice and supplemental educational services. She has given several districts permission to reverse the timetable for implementing those changes, allowing them to offer the SES one year before choice. Last month, she said she'd consider applications from all states.

Alabama is seeking a waiver to do that. A Birmingham school advocate and national civil rights organizations are teaming up in opposition.Citizens for Better Schools in Birmingham, with assistance from the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights in Washington, say that Alabama's reasons for requesting the switch is lame (it'll save gas money). But the press release also includes this illuminating quote from the Lawyers' Committee's chief counsel John Brittain:

"Transfer is a right extended by Congress to the beneficiaries of Title I and should not be taken away or delayed by the state recipients. What Congress giveth only Congress should take away.”

Brittain's saying school choice is a right extended to parents of students in schools in need of improvement. The choice rules are not mandates put upon school districts. Spellings' may be exceeding her executive authority to delay the implementation of school choice, the groups say in the formal complaint sent to the department.

Alabama has revised its application since the groups sent their complaint to the department last week, Brittain told me in an e-mail. Still, the question remains unanswered: Does Spellings have the authority to offer this flexibility to Alabama or any other state?

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