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Waiver loss would risk state education efforts

The May 15 editorial headline drew my attention. It read, “No Child Left Behind faceoff is high drama – but of little consequence.”

Reading through the piece, I was concerned by what I consider to be two major mischaracterizations: first, the reasons Indiana is in danger of losing its exemption from federal education regulations, and second, the consequences for Hoosier students if this comes to pass.

The issue is Indiana’s waiver from certain requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. As the editorial explains, the U.S. Department of Education has granted Indiana an exemption from certain accountability requirements of NCLB in exchange for our promise to implement our own accountability plan that meets the goals of NCLB.

In practical terms, this waiver gives both the state and local schools greater flexibility over their funding and policy decisions.

Federal education officials notified Indiana earlier this month that their examination of Indiana found we have not stuck to our promised implementation goals in multiple areas. Subsequent follow-up has confirmed that our waiver is in jeopardy of being revoked if corrective action isn’t taken soon.

Contrary to the casual tone taken by the editorial, this is no small matter to our local schools.

Consider the funding flexibility our waiver affords. More than 900 Indiana schools collectively receive in the neighborhood of $250 million in federal Title I education funding. If Indiana’s waiver is lost, many of those schools will have far less say as to how that money is spent, potentially jeopardizing staff positions and student programming.

Furthermore, the loss of our waiver would mean our schools would be subject to federal Adequate Yearly Progress measures. Almost none of our schools would be considered adequate under these ratings, making them subject to a host of federal mandates, including public school choice that requires district-funded busing to other schools and various tutoring and remediation requirements.

How did Indiana find itself in this position? The Journal Gazette suggests that the status of Indiana’s NCLB waiver is no surprise given our recent withdrawal from the Common Core State Standards. In fact, the issues cited by federal officials go far beyond our academic standards.

They include multiple areas overseen by the Indiana Department of Education, including the teacher evaluation process, support for failing schools and outreach efforts to teachers, parents and other stakeholders. The U.S. Department of Education has made it clear that immediate action is needed to correct course in these areas.

It’s true that Indiana also has work to do when it comes to making the transition to our new academic standards, but we are well on our way in this area.

When U.S. education officials conducted their examination of Indiana last August, the State Board of Education was still in the process of adopting Indiana’s new standards to replace Common Core. Since then, those standards have been adopted, with verification from our state universities that they adequately prepare students for college and career success. Federal officials have acknowledged Indiana’s progress in this area and have expressed their willingness to work with state leaders as they develop new testing to go with our standards.

Therefore, The Journal Gazette’s attempt to pin the status of our NCLB waiver on the decision to withdraw from Common Core is simply inaccurate.

Fortunately, all of the stakeholders in this process – including the U.S. and Indiana departments of education, Gov. Mike Pence, the State Board of Education and the legislative leadership at the Statehouse – share a keen understanding of the seriousness of this matter and have pledged to work together to address it so that Indiana can keep its waiver.

There is much work to be done in the days ahead for this effort to be successful, but I’m glad to see the teamwork approach being taken on all sides so that we can best serve our Indiana students.

David Long is president pro tempore of the Indiana Senate. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.