Baesler withdraws state’s application for waiver

North Dakota State Supt. of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler announced Monday that she has withdrawn the state’s application for the Elementary and Secondary Act flexibility waiver and the state will proceed under current guidelines for the 2013-2014 school year.

The waiver would have given North Dakota more flexibility under the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, but Baesler said the U.S. Department of Education has taken too long to make a decision on the waiver application and the state’s schools need to begin planning for the upcoming school year.

North Dakota submitted its initial flexibility waiver on Sept. 6 with a revision submitted on Dec. 27.

“The idea of developing a state-determined plan was very inviting,” said Baesler in a press release. “The further we progressed through the waiver process the more we felt we were being asked to adopt another national, one-size-fits-all model. We discovered there is very little flexibility for us in the ESEA Waiver. Schools and teachers would actually see very little relief.”

Baesler said the key issue of disagreement between DPI and the U.S. Department of Education is over the level by which the number of non-proficient students need to be reduced over six years. North Dakota’s flexibility waiver application called for schools to achieve a 25 percent reduction during those six years; the U.S. Department of Public Instruction wanted the bar set higher, at 50 percent. Baesler said DPI staff and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Planning Committee, made up of educators from across the state, believe that 25 percent is an ambitious, but realistic, attainable goal while 50 percent is not.

Baesler said the U.S. Department of Education has been too slow in making a determination about North Dakota’s application ,and, last Friday, asked the state to consider postponing discussion on the waiver to a later date. Baesler said this was not acceptable because it is necessary for schools across the state to begin scheduling and planning for the next school year.

“We developed a plan to help our schools move forward under the waiver, but we also have a plan to help the increasing number of schools who will be placed in program improvement status under the current No Child Left Behind requirements,” said Baesler in a press release. “We are prepared and procedures are currently in place to move forward with those plans.”

Only schools that receive Title I funding, apportioned based on the number of students in the school eligible for free or reduced price school lunches, fall under the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Title I schools or school districts that receive federal Title I funding whose students fail to make “adequate yearly progress” on standardized tests are eventually placed in program improvement. Among other requirements is that schools set aside 10 percent of their Title I funds for professional development for teachers.

Baesler urged the state’s congressional delegation to improve and reauthorize a school improvement bill.

“Only reauthorization of an improved Elementary and Secondary Education Act can provide the long-term certainty needed to pursue education improvement reforms and adopt effective standards,” said Baesler in the press release. “Failure to reform and reauthorize the ESEA has put undue authority in the USDE to dictate education reform through grants and waivers.”