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Posted on Fri. Aug. 29, 2014 - 01:00 am EDT

State education waiver extended

Gives Indiana flexibility on federal money

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INDIANAPOLIS — The U.S. Department of Education granted Indiana a one-year extension on its federal education waiver Thursday – ending months of fears that the state would lose flexibility in funding and accountability.

All conditions and restrictions were removed from the waiver.

“On behalf of Indiana’s schools, I am incredibly pleased to learn that our waiver request has been granted,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said. “This news means that local schools throughout our state will receive much needed flexibility in how they utilize their federal dollars. This waiver extension also will allow Indiana to have continued flexibility in how we measure student performance and growth.”

Indiana education officials have scrambled since May to correct deficiencies found in the state’s handling of the accountability waiver.

Ritz said several times during a Thursday afternoon news conference that the waiver decision validates the hard work of the Indiana Department of Education.

Losing the waiver would have required the state to resume following a federal accountability law instead of using its own A-F grading system. And the state and local districts could have lost flexibility on how to spend more than $200 million in federal Title I education funds.

“The school leaders, teachers and families who have been worried about this decision for months can breathe a sigh of relief today that Indiana is not going to lose these funds or our ability to use them flexibly,” State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry said.

“But let’s be clear: None of this had to happen, and dodging the worst-case scenario in this instance should lead to a stronger partnership with the U.S. Department of Education as we continue to improve Indiana K-12 policy.”

Ritz said the renewal process will start again in about six months. That renewal will largely focus on the state’s teacher and principal evaluation and support systems. Some districts have not complied with tying teacher pay to evaluations because of contract issues. And the state law didn’t specifically set how much test scores should count in the evaluation, leading to variations around the state.

A renewal could be given for between two and four years.

“Indiana will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Education to address any remaining implementation challenges with respect to school and educator accountability requirements, which were established under state law,” Gov. Mike Pence said. “The approval of Indiana’s waiver request is great news for Indiana students and schools. It gives us the ability to maintain local control of how federal education dollars are invested and to maintain the use of Indiana’s A-F school accountability system. The waiver also allows school districts and teachers to educate students in a manner determined by Hoosier educators and families in their local communities.”

The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday also granted an extension for Kansas and denied one for Oklahoma. Indiana received a waiver from the requirements of the landmark No Child Left Behind education law in 2012. The law’s goal was to get all children up to par in math and reading by 2014, but state education leaders increasingly complained that the goal wasn’t realistic.

States excused from following the law were exempt from the 2014 deadline but had to submit plans showing how they would prepare children for college and careers, set new targets for improving achievement among all students; reward the best-performing schools and help on the ones doing the worst.

Washington became the first state to lose its waiver after it refused to implement teacher evaluations.

A letter in May informed Ritz that federal monitors visiting in the fall of 2013 had identified problems in the state’s handling of the waiver.

The requirements for the waiver were crafted and approved under former Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett, a Republican, but the implementation has been left to Ritz, who defeated Bennett in the 2012 election.

The issues include handling of teacher and principal evaluations, monitoring of college- and career-ready standards, and technical assistance for troubled districts.

The federal monitors said that in many cases, Indiana has failed to follow through on promises it made in its initial waiver plan.

nkelly@jg.net


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