After more than two hours of heated debate, the state school board voted Thursday evening to postpone a decision about whether to return to the unpopular federal education law No Child Left Behind.
The board voted to decide at its Aug. 8 meeting whether to seek a renewal of the state’s waiver to No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Opponents of renewing the waiver worry that doing so would further tie the state to federal control, while those in favor of renewal say that returning to NCLB would harm Utah students.
Without that waiver most of the state’s schools would be labeled as failing this year because NCLB requires 100 percent of students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Utah would also likely have to shift $26 million in federal dollars from their current uses to old programs and strategies.
In exchange for the waiver, Utah had to promise to implement a plan addressing college and career readiness, school accountability and teacher evaluation, among other things.
A standing-room-only crowd filled the board room Thursday, with many wearing stickers that said "Don’t renew the waiver."
"I don’t want to get out of No Child Left Behind by replacing it with something much, much worse," said Gayle Ruzicka, head of the Utah Eagle Forum, speaking against waiver renewal.
Several educators, however, rose to speak in favor of keeping the waiver, which is otherwise set to expire in coming months.
"Not to renew this waiver would be stepping back into a system that never worked in the first place," said Logan Toone, Davis district assessment director.
Board chair David Crandall noted that state Senate leaders have expressed support for not renewing the waiver with the understanding that, if that happens, education leaders might call upon them for additional funding to help handle the transition back to NCLB.
"We now have to ask permission from the federal government if we want to change [the conditions of the waiver], and that’s not something I’m comfortable with," Crandall said. "We need to take a very careful look at what we’re getting into this second time."
Others, however, said it makes no sense for Utah’s children and schools to revert back to NCLB. Board member Debra Roberts said she opposes federal intrusion into education, but having to shift that $26 million and return to the old accountability system and its consequences could be a big problem for Utah schools.
"Really, when it comes to federal intrusion, to not do the waiver is much more intrusive than to continue with the waiver," Roberts said. "Let’s continue the waiver so we don’t affect our children."
The board decided to hold off on the decision in hopes of getting more opinions legally and financially on the issue. The board also heard from the North Dakota Superintendent Kristen Baesler, via teleconference, during its meeting about how that state has handled not having a waiver. She said her state has not lost any money, but she also said North Dakota has higher state per pupil funding than Utah and there was wide agreement among educators, parents and leaders there not to seek a waiver.
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