By Tim Willert
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.
The Common Core standards were developed by a group of individual states as part of an initiative of the National Governors Association. Oklahoma adopted the standards for math and English in 2010; they were scheduled to take effect in the 2014-15 school year.
Gov. Mary Fallin said the decision shows the federal government is punishing Oklahoma because of state lawmakers' decision to repeal Common Core.
"It is outrageous that President Obama and Washington bureaucrats are trying to dictate how Oklahoma schools spend education dollars," Fallin said. "Because of overwhelming opposition from Oklahoma parents and voters to Common Core, Washington is now acting to punish us."
Leaders of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, the Cooperative Council of Oklahoma School Administration and the United Suburban Schools Association issued a joint statement saying the decision from Washington was "no surprise."
"The U.S. Department of Education's denial of the waiver request is disappointing but comes as no surprise," the statement reads. "This was a foreseeable consequence of the passage of House Bill 3399."
Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu said he wasn't surprised by the federal agency's decision to revoke Oklahoma's waiver.
"This makes the state Legislature's decision to repeal Common Core that much more disconcerting," he said. "Our state elected leaders knew we had a risk of going back to the failed public policy of No Child Left Behind. Simply put, this is bad for our children."
'Not a big deal'
Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, authored HB 3399. Nelson said removing the waiver was a politically driven decision, but it won't have much effect as a practical matter.
"I don't think it's a big deal," Nelson said. "I think the big deal is the fact that you've got the federal government trying to exert this kind of control. In terms of what practically is going to change here as a result of that, I think is not a big deal."
"Not much is changing. There is no loss of money. They're not even going to require the set-aside of the 20 percent of the Title 1 funds for use by parents to do tutoring. I really think it's a non-event."
Asked whether teachers would have to be laid off, Nelson said, "I have no reason to think that. There is no loss or set-aside of funds."
He said despite the loss of the waiver, he thinks passage of the bill to end Common Core without having new academic standards to replace it was the right thing to do.
"Since education is uniquely a state issue, I think it's in the best interest of the state to do what's in the best interest of our education system without deferring to Secretary (Arne) Duncan. So from that perspective, I think we did the right thing."
(c)2014 The Oklahoman