Obama administration tells states to seek waivers for ‘No Child Left Behind’

Calling Congress “dysfunctional,” senior Obama administration officials
are urging all 50 states to seek a waiver exempting them from
requirements under the 2002 “No Child Left Behind” education law.

administration on Monday detailed plans to bypass Congress and grant
states more flexibility to avoid onerous penalties if they fail to meet
the standards set by the landmark George W. Bush-era initiative.

Secretary Arne Duncan said the federal government would formalize the
application process for the waivers in September, and he encouraged
every state to apply. The announcement is a slap at a congressional
inaction and a recognition by the Obama administration that a bipartisan
overhaul of No Child Left Behind is not likely anytime soon.

Duncan said the administration wanted Congress to pass a new education law before it left for its August recess.

“But it hasn’t, and we can’t afford to wait,” Duncan said at a White House briefing.

“Right now Congress is pretty dysfunctional,” he added. “They’re not getting stuff done.”

administration has been pushing lawmakers for months, but Republican
leaders in the House have resisted Obama’s deadline for acting, and the
Democratic-led Senate has made no more progress. Congressional
Democratic leaders and the administration oppose measures approved by
the House Education and Workforce Committee, which have yet to receive a
House floor vote.

Duncan warned earlier this year that unless
Congress changed the law, 82 percent fo public schools would be
considered failing by next year. Under the 2002 law, all students must
be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

Duncan said the current law is too rigid and does not recognize legitimate improvement that many schools have made.

“We now have a law that impedes that progress, that impedes that reform,” he said.

States throughout the country have been asking for the flexibility the administration is now offering, Duncan said.

administration did not detail the waiver standards. The waivers can
last for up to four years, but officials said they would be designed as a
“bridge” to the broader congressional rewrite of the law, not as a
permanent substitute.

“The standards will be high. The bar will
be high,” Barnes said. “Accountability will remain one of the
bellwethers for our system as it has in the past.”

stressed that the administration’s authority to grant waivers was
provided in the current law. “This isn’t outside of the law. It is
within the law. And this has been done before,” she said.

Led by
Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.), the House education committee has passed
three bills aimed at revising and reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind
law. A spokeswoman for the committee said the full House was likely to
take up the bills this fall and that the committee would consider more
legislation after the August recess. Kline and other GOP leaders
rejected the idea of overhauling the 2002 in one bill, upholding a
pledge to avoid massive pieces of legislation in favor of a piecemeal

“Secretary Duncan and I both recognize the critical
need for improvement in the nation’s education system. However, I remain
concerned that temporary measures instituted by the department, such as
conditional waivers, could undermine the committee’s efforts to
reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” Kline said in a
statement. “The House Education and the Workforce Committee has already
advanced three pieces of legislation to reform current elementary and
secondary education law, and we plan to complete our reauthorization
package this fall. I will be monitoring the secretary’s actions closely
to ensure they are consistent with the law and congressional intent.”

education committee’s top Democrat, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), said
he understood the administration’s rationale for moving ahead without
Congress. “Time is simply running out to get a comprehensive bill done,
but we can’t settle for anything less than what is best for our
students,” Miller said in a statement.

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