NCLB Waiver Applications
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January 6, 2012

If your state was not among the 11 that applied to the US Department of Education (USDOE) for an NCLB (No Child Left Behind) waiver in November, it will likely be among the additional 28 states expected to apply in February 2012. At this time, Montana is the only state to have officially declined.

Consider reviewing and commenting on your state's application. Unexpected provisions may prompt criticisms. For example, many of the 11 applications promise state funds to bring more unprepared, temporary teachers into schools in low-wealth communities.

The waiver application process requires each state to provide a meaningful opportunity for input from education stakeholders, including the public. The lack of compliance with this provision was one of the complaints registered, recently, with USDOE from New Jersey.

In comments filed with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Education Law Center (ELC) requested that the USDOE defer a decision on the New Jersey Department of Education's (NJDOE) application, filed in November, for a waiver from the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, known as NCLB) until NJDOE addresses numerous concerns.

The NJDOE filed the application in response to a "first round" invitation from USDOE to states seeking relief from certain provisions of NCLB. 

In its comments, ELC requests deferral of the waiver decision until the February review cycle to allow NJDOE to address glaring omissions, a lack of detail, and unanswered questions on critical elements of the application. The specific concerns raised include:

  • NJDOE never released the full waiver application for public review and comment. Instead, on November 3, NJDOE released a "draft outline," which failed to contain many crucial details on its waiver proposals. The window for public comment on the incomplete "draft outline" was just five days, including a weekend and a state holiday. As a result, education stakeholders and the public were not afforded a meaningful opportunity to review and comment on the detailed and complex proposals included in the final application.   
  • NJDOE failed to include in its final application the full record of public comments submitted by civil rights organizations and other groups on the "draft outline," including comments filed by ELC on November 3.        
  • The final application failed to address a number of crucial details on key proposals, such as teacher and principal evaluations, equitable distribution of experienced teachers, new academic standards, and needs of students with disabilities and English language learners.
  • NJDOE's proposal appears to allow for the allocation of federal Title 1 funds to "reward schools" that serve very few low-income students.
  • The failure to include any estimate of the cost of implementing the waiver proposals, if approved, to local districts and schools, particularly given the recurring revenue shortfalls in the NJ state budget.
  • The inclusion of numerous proposals that are currently not authorized by state law -- such as the proposals for a "single accountability system," a "Commissioner's district," and "closing" low performing schools -- along with a proposal for vouchers to private and religious schools that is clearly outside the scope of the ESEA waiver.

"The changes proposed in this application will have a huge impact on every student parent, teacher, school and district across the state," said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. "It is simply unacceptable for NJDOE to submit the application without a real and meaningful opportunity for public comment, to omit crucial details in the application, and to leave so many key questions unanswered."

"We're asking Secretary Duncan to defer the application to the next cycle and direct the NJDOE to address these numerous and substantial concerns," Sciarra added.

Related Story:
ELC Calls on NJDOE to Defer and Revamp NCLB Waiver Application
Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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