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Utah Board Votes to Seek No Child Left Behind Act Waiver Extension

Despite concerns about federal overreach, the Utah State Board of Education decided Friday to ask the U.S. Department of Education to extend its No Child Left Behind waiver for an additional school year. If the state had voluntarily ditched its waiver, it would have been the first in the nation to do so.

In debating the extension, members of the state board of education were clearly concerned about an outsized federal footprint—but they were far more worried about what getting rid of the waiver might mean for school districts, which would lose control over $27 million in federal funding.

Some anti-common core activists had been pressing the state to ditch the waiver. But the Utah Education Association, local superintendents, and the Parent Teacher Association were firmly in favor of keeping it, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The board had hoped that the state legislature might hold a special session to send part of a budget surplus to K-12 education, which could smooth the way for backing out of the waiver, but that didn't happen.

"School districts have already gone and hired teachers," said David Thomas, a member of the board. They can't afford to lose authority over the money at this late date, he said.

But the waiver application will carry with it a list of clarifications, stating, essentially, that Utah has control over its own tests, standards, and teacher evaluation, thank you very much. The amendments even include text from a letter U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent the state  back in 2012, stating explicitly that there is nothing in the waiver process that forces states to sign onto the Common Core State Standards.

The new language sends a message, but it doesn't have much of a practical impact, as state board members noted during the meeting.

"This doesn't change much," said Teresa Theuer, another board member, as she read over the revisions. "We're already doing these things."

By and large, most states with waivers prefer them over the outdated NCLB law and have asked for an extension. But some states without NCLB waivers are also pretty happy not to be part of the waiver system.

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