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Despite Bumps, Utah, Maine Working Towards NCLB Waiver Renewal

A No Child Left Behind Act rewrite may be faltering—or about to pick up steam—on Capitol Hill. But state renewals of NCLB waivers are very much in progress in most places, including in states that have faced some waiver angst lately, such as Utah and Maine.

After some serious debate, Utah has decided it will apply for a waiver renewal of just one year, even though most states have the option of asking to keep their flexibility in place through the 2017-18 school year.

Waivers seem like a federal overreach to some Utah state board members because the department encouraged states to adopt the Common Core State Standards and aligned tests and craft teacher evaluations based on student outcomes. On the other hand, without a waiver, Utah districts would lose control over $30 million in Title I funding next school year, which would have to be set aside for interventions that many districts say aren't very effective. (This isn't the first time Utah has mulled ditching the flexibility. The state went through a similar debate last year.)

In fact, if the state legislature can cough up the funds to help smooth the transition back from its current waiver, which expires after this school year, to NCLB and its sanctions,  the Beehive State will elect not to apply for a renewal, the state board decided Friday. But the board also acknowledged lawmakers are unlikely to find the funds before the March 31 deadline.

Utah isn't the only state that is likely to ask for a comparatively short-term renewal of its waiver. Georgia is doing the same thing, seeking a renewal for just one year, spokesman Matt Cardoza said in an email.

Meanwhile, Maine faces its own waiver woes. It's not 100 percent clear to the feds that the state's teacher-evaluation system requires districts to use state—not just district-level—test scores in its evaluation system, according to a letter that Deborah Delisle, the assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, sent to the state late last year. Lack of a requirement on state scores is, in fact, the reason that Washington state lost its waiver last year, although Delisle's letter didn't say anything about pulling Maine's waiver.

A bill in the Maine legislature making the fix, put forth by Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, is on the runway and could get a vote in committee as early as next week. More background from the Portland Press Herald. (Samantha Warren, a spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Education, took issue with comments in the article saying that the governor is seeking to go further in incorporating test scores into teacher evaluation than the feds are asking Maine to go. That's not the case, in the state education agency's view.)

So if most states are busily working on their renewal applications, have any actually filed?

Four of the states that were tapped for early-bird renewal have their applications in: Kentucky, North Carolina, New Mexico, and Virginia. Another state that's had a largely positive experience with its waiver, Minnesota, has filed its application.

Waivers, of course, became the Obama administration's stopgap solution when it was clear that Congress would be unable to renew the law by the 2013-14 school year, when all students were supposed to be on the road to "proficiency" on state reading and math tests. Waivers are in place in 42 states and the District of Columbia, but have become increasingly unpopular with state education agencies since they were first unveiled back in 2011.

It's unclear just how much juice the Obama administration has to hold states to its initial waiver vision, particularly in the area of teacher evaluation through student outcomes. More in this story.

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