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Oklahoma loses ability to use federal funding as state sees fit

U.S. government denies Oklahoma’s flexibility waiver under the No Child Left Behind Act — a move that came after Oklahoma’s repeal of Common Core.
by Tim Willert Modified: August 28, 2014 at 10:21 pm •  Published: August 28, 2014

Oklahoma, it appears, will have to pay for repealing Common Core standards.

The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday denied a request by the state’s top education official to extend a flexibility waiver under the No Child Left Behind Act, a decision that will place restrictions on nearly $30 million in annual federal funding for local school districts beginning with the 2015-2016 school year.

The move follows the state’s repeal of Common Core education standards earlier this year. It will require a total of about $29 million in federal funding — or 20 percent of $145.5 million — be set aside to pay for tutoring and transportation by schools now considered to be in need of improvement.

U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary Deborah Delisle wrote in a letter to Oklahoma state Superintendent Janet Barresi that the state’s waiver was denied because Oklahoma “can no longer demonstrate that the State’s standards are college- and career-ready standards.”

The waiver had allowed Oklahoma school officials to spend the federal funding as they saw fit.

Without it, districts with under-performing schools will have to use it to pay for supplemental educational services such as tutoring, along with school-choice options that include transportation to better-performing schools if requested by parents.

Because of the loss of the waiver, as many as 1,600 Oklahoma public schools now are considered to be underperforming under No Child Left Behind accountability requirements, state officials said. About $20 million in federal funds could be restricted as early as this school year to implement improvements that would bring schools into compliance, officials added.

Barresi, who requested the extension, said she was “frustrated” and “disappointed” but not “terribly surprised” by the decision. She called the decision “all but inevitable” with the passing of House Bill 3399, which scrapped Common Core.

“Oklahoma has made great strides toward strengthening its schools largely because of the flexibility of the waiver that has freed the state, school districts and schools from 13 federal regulations,” Barresi said. “The regulations of No Child Left Behind, I believe, are counter-productive and overly rigid, and they will pose a number of serious challenges for all our schools.”

Common Core repeal

The waiver was granted after Oklahoma adopted Common Core standards for math and English.

After the repeal of Common Core, Oklahoma public schools returned to previous academic standards.

State Education Department officials said those previous standards were not certified as college- and career-ready by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education by an Aug. 12 deadline to request the waiver.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, about 1,600 Oklahoma schools — 90 percent of the state’s schools — will be designated as needing improvement. The number is up from 460, said Barresi, who criticized the state Board of Education for delaying the process for developing new academic standards to replace Common Core.

State Education Department officials said Thursday it could potentially cost the state $3.8 million to hire about four dozen staff members to help districts and schools implement the federal regulations.

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by Tim Willert
Education Reporter
Tim Willert is a native Californian with Oklahoma ties who covers education. Prior to moving to Oklahoma in June 2011, he was as an editor for FOXSports.com in Century City, Calif., and reported on courts for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and...
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