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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: Washington Legislature should reclaim No Child Left Behind funds

Last year, the Legislature failed to adopt a teacher and principal evaluation bill, ensuring that Washington would be the first state to have its federal No Child Left Behind waiver yanked.

On March 13, the state Senate passed legislation that could reclaim the waiver, but the House Education Committee has not held a hearing on its bill, signaling its intent to do nothing again. This would please the powerful statewide teachers association but would hurt needy students.

If such intransigence continues, Title I schools would once again lose control over about $40 million in funds.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, a former teachers union leader, praised the passage of ESSB 5748. Gov. Jay Inslee has urged a legislative fix. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has clearly indicated what the state needs to do.

So now all eyes turn to House Education Committee Chairwoman Sharon Tomiko Santos and House Speaker Frank Chopp. Will they capitulate to the Washington Education Association again?

They shouldn’t. The federal waiver requires only that student test scores be one part of a multifaceted system of evaluating teachers. Teachers are not going to be fired on that one data point.

This issue is complicated by the fact that Congress has failed to update the No Child Left Behind Act, as it was supposed to do, starting in 2007. Without an update, any school where 100 percent of students didn’t reach proficiency on statewide assessments by 2014 is supposed to be deemed “failing.” Knowing this would mean nearly all schools, the U.S. Department of Education stepped in to offer waivers, as long as states fulfilled certain requirements, such as including student test scores in teacher evaluations.

Washington did not comply. As a result, 93 percent of schools were labeled failing, and districts had to send letters to households informing them that their students were eligible for tutoring and other services. Those services are financed by the 20 percent of Title I money districts had to set aside by virtue of losing the waiver. Districts can access unclaimed money, but not until spring, which is too late for hiring and planning purposes.

In short, life would be a lot easier for school districts if the Legislature would act. And Congress could make the waivers moot if it updated the absurd provision of the No Child Left Behind Act that calls for perfection.

Many schools did improve under NCLB, and that was the law’s greatest achievement. As long as progress continues, it’s pointless to impose sanctions. The federal waivers embrace this concept and are a reasonable temporary solution until Congress acts.

U.S. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said March 9 that they expect to have a package of reforms ready for education committee review by mid-April. The process could take months.

In the meantime, the Legislature should do what it takes to regain the state’s waiver.