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Seven States Put on NCLB Waiver-Renewal Fast Track

Seven No Child Left Behind waiver states that have stayed on track with their teacher-evaluation systems will be eligible to apply for the longest possible waiver renewal, under a special, expedited process. The states include: Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

It's not clear if all of these states will take the feds up on their special offer, however. 

Last week, when the Education Department released guidance for renewal of No Child Left Behind Act waivers, it told states there would be two separate processes for renewing their waivers. The vast majority of states will be eligible for renewals of up to three years and can apply at the end of March. 

But certain states, which the department just identified, can apply under a much faster process, starting in late January.  And they could be tapped for longer renewals, of up to four years, or through the 2018-19 school year (when, it has to be said, the Obama administration will be out of office and waivers could very well be a thing of the past).  

Still, the expedited process is a reward, of sorts, to these states for staying on track when it comes to their teacher-evaluation systems. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan initially held very firm on the department's original timeframe for putting in place teacher evaluations that rely on student outcomes, which called for evaluation systems to be up and running this school year. But, as more states struggled with the policy, he gave them options for delay, including allowing states that are transitioning to new tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards the chance to hold off on incorporating student test scores into teacher evaluations for an extra year. 

The expedited waiver option gives states that have stuck to their teacher-evaluation guns, and the department's vision, something to show for their efforts. And it's in keeping with the Obama adminstration's general strategy. Duncan has gotten a lot of what he wants on policies like teacher evaluation and turnarounds through rewarding states with hundreds of millions in Race to the Top money and, when that dried up, with the waivers themselves.

But now President Barack Obama and Duncan are entering into lame-duck territory. And they have to work with a GOP Congress that's unlikely to give them any more competitive-grant money to spread around. That could make this extra special, expedited waiver renewal one of the very last carrots in Duncan's refrigerator. (Most of what he has left are sticks, such as putting a waiver on high-risk status or attaching a condition to it, or not renewing a state's flexibility.) 

And at least a couple of the states that have been told they can take advantage of this special process are thinking of saying thanks-but-no-thanks. 

Florida, for instance, may not take the Education Department up on its offer for an expedited waiver renewal—or possibly even ask for a renewal at all, Pam Stewart, the commissioner of education told me in an interview Thursday. The state has tussled with the department over testing for English-language learners. 

Stewart said she wasn't sure if Florida would go after a renewal until all of this resolved—she's planning to talk to Gov. Rick Scott and others in the state about it before figuring out how to move forward.  

And Virginia is debating whether to go on the fast track, or wait for the March 31 waiver-renewal application deadline.

Not going with the fast-track renewal could give states extra time to get their applications together and consider any tweaks to their flexibility plans.

Three other states—Georgia, Mississippi, and Nevada—were also given word in their extension letters that they might qualify for the special renewal process, but Georgia and Mississippi told Edweek earlier this year they were considering delaying incorporating test scores into their teacher-evaluation systems. So that might have kept them out of it. And Nevada has pushed back its timeline on tying evaluations to personnel decisions, like hiring and firing. 

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