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States Without Waivers No Longer Must Withhold Money for Tutoring, Choice

It's official: States without waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act no longer have to set aside a hefty portion of their federal Title I funds in order to provide for tutoring and school choice. That list includes: California, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Vermont, Washington state, and Wyoming. 

The U.S. Department of Education, which made that announcement Friday, had already essentially said as much in previous guidance for states wondering how the transition from the NCLB law to the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, will work. 

Some background: NCLB called for schools that continually failed to meet achievement targets—which is most schools in the states without waivers at this point—to set aside 20 percent of their federal Title I funds for disadvantaged students for public school choice, or tutoring. But ESSA gets rid of that requirement. Plus, it's already moot for the 42 states with waivers from the NCLB law.

Still, since ESSA doesn't fully kick in until the 2017-18 school year, states without waivers, the largest of which is California, have been asking where they stand when it comes to the set-aside.  

So what do these states need to do? They'll have to come up with another plan to support schools where students were previously missing achievement targets, the department told Mike Kirst, the president of the California school board, in a letter sent Friday. (Read the letter here.) 

And the plan doesn't necessarily have to include every school in the state that was eligible for choice and tutoring. Instead, states should put a premium on the schools where a large percentage or a large number of students are falling behind. The plan, which will apply to the 2016-17 school year only, needs to be developed by March 1, with input from parents, teachers, students, districts, and others. And it must explain just how the state plans to help students succeed academically.  

What's more, students who are already taking advantage of public school choice get to stay in their school until they've completed the highest grade it offers. 

The Council of Chief State School Officers gave the department a pat on the back for the guidance.

"States appreciate the steps the U.S. Department of Education has taken so far in providing guidance on the Every Student Succeeds Act," said Carissa Miller, the deputy director of CCSSO. "In keeping with the spirit of the law, the department has given states the flexibility they need on supplemental educational services, public school choice, and Highly Qualified Teacher status during this critical transition period. It is encouraging to see this focus on moving systems forward and helping states put energy into implementing this new law."
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