Education secretary defends No Child Left Behind waivers
“Providing waivers was always, always our Plan B," education Secretary Arne Duncan said.
February 7th, 2013
05:51 PM ET

Education secretary defends No Child Left Behind waivers

By Sally Holland, CNN

Washington (CNN) - Republicans and Democrats in the Senate agreed Thursday that they would prefer a reauthorized education bill that updates school standards, instead of allowing more waivers for states to bypass No Child Left Behind.

The 2001 No Child Left Behind act required that all students meet ambitious reading and math standards by 2014; schools that didn't would be subject to reforms or slashed funding. The standards have gotten tougher over the years and schools are struggling to keep up, or failing entirely. A reauthorized bill would set goals states see as more attainable.

“The bottom line is that it expired in 2007 except for a provision that says if Congress didn’t act, it would continue," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. "Congress didn’t act so it’s continuing. That’s our fault. That’s on us."

In 2011, the White House announced states could apply for waivers that would relieve them from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or No Child Left Behind, while still giving them access to federal education funding. To get a waiver, they would have to meet standards laid out by the U.S. Department of Education.

The waivers have been controversial among Republicans who object to the stipulations the Obama administration puts onto many states before they're awarded.

"This simple waiver authority has turned into a conditional waiver with the secretary basically having more authority to make decisions that, in my view, should be made locally by state and local governments," Alexander said.

Appearing before the committee, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said 34 states and the District of Columbia have been granted waivers while nine states, Puerto Rico and the Bureau of Indian Education have requests under consideration. The deadline to apply for the waivers is the end of February.

The waivers would become obsolete if Congress comes up with a deal to reauthorize No Child Left Behind with updated standards, Duncan said.

“Providing waivers was always, always our Plan B. But I was not willing to stand idly by and do nothing while students and educators continue to suffer under No Child Left Behind,” Duncan said.

Last session, the House and Senate both worked on bills that would have updated all or parts of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. One Senate bill never made it to the floor. The House committee passed five bills, but only one, a charter school bill, was brought to the floor for a vote. It died with no action in the Senate.

“It’s no secret that for many years Congress has been dysfunctional,” Duncan said. “My team and I put in hundreds and hundreds of hours in what proved to be a fruitless effort over the past two years. In all candor, I would like to have gone to waivers earlier.”

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Filed under: Arne Duncan • NCLB • Politics
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Alice in PA

    These waivers are being used to hold the states hostage to Duncan's chosen programs including national standards and tying teacher evaluation to inaccurate and meaningless test scores. Put the control at the local level, but also ensure fair funding at the state level. Since a lot of school funding is based on property tax, poor areas have less money for school, but also have the highest needs. So the system perpetuates the failing poor schools (urban and rural). I am not saying just throw money at the problem. But consider this analogy: two heart patients needing medical care. One only needs a stent whereas the other needs an actual transplant. Should both patients be given the same amount of money towards their medical bills? Or worse, should the patient needing less care get more money and care?

    February 10, 2013 at 8:17 am |
  2. Mark

    This is a tough one. We want all kids to learn equally but facts are facts and the BELL curve is real, some kids will be brighter than others but NCLB prevents the bright kids from excelling because all the attention is put on the LOW END students. If any kid bright or not doesn't have a stable homelife they will always struggle and schools will be judged on factors outside their control. Build dorms for all kids who need stability then hold me accountable with NCLB. Education is a mess and really only FAMILIES can make education a priority.

    February 9, 2013 at 10:08 am |
  3. Tex from Virginia

    K-12 does nothing to prepare children for the real world. No two children are alike, so then why do we try to educate them all the same way?

    February 8, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  4. Ni

    Sometimes its better to let the state's government to figure this out. Other times it isn't . But the educational services are being paid by our Taxes. Which we use to pay for our education. With enough motivation students can keep up with the rest. They simply are not. Let the state or school district make their decision on how the students should be acting. Why not just make the whole "No Child Left behind Act" an extra program that schools can apply for for extra funding to initiate this in their school, instead of having the schools have to issue for waivers. Every state has their own standards, just leave them be. But updating standards, it may be good, but it depends on what you update.

    February 7, 2013 at 11:58 pm |
  5. ImpishLisa

    When it is your child having to go to a local school that cannot teach your children enough to 'keep up' then you will understand. As to the GOP Boohoos, the private school waivers cost HALF of what the public schools cost per student. PLEASE research this, don't take their words. I deserve to educate my children the best i can. It's MY tax share money, I am NOT costing more, I am COSTING LESS per child. Columbus Ohio Public schools ; 11,000+ per child. PER CHILD. Private school waivers. 5,000.
    Diocese teachers of equal education ..make 30,000 a year or LESS. same education or less public school teacher makes well over 60,000. DO THE MATH.

    February 7, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
    • Tex from Virginia

      Maybe its your child fault they cant keep up, and not the school.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • Alice in PA

      Private schools do not educate children better than public schools. That has been repeatedly shown in local and international studies such as with the PISA international test. They just have easier kids to educate which means things as simple as those kids get fed regularly and sleep in a secure home. It could also mean having parents that are motivated and speak meaningfully to their children and have friends that do so too, usually because they are not working 2 minimum wage jobs just to keep food and a roof for their kids.

      February 10, 2013 at 8:10 am |
      • jerseyguy36

        I suppose the question I have to ask is "WHY"?Why do they not have a secure home? Why do they have only one parent? After all it took two to produce the child last time I checked, why can they only work at minimum wage jobs? Why didn't the parents choose to get an education before making babies? If we continue on this path of bailouts for those that just don't want to do what other do so their kids can have an education, then, we will continue this circular path forever with no break out. I know it is a had pill to swallow but why do you think it is easier to just ask the tax payers to dish out more and more of their hard earned money to support others that are not disadvantaged due to no fault of their own. It is their own fault but they prefer to play victim! I know you say we hold the children hostage and I guess we do but the parents have held them hostage since day one. We must start somewhere to break out. More Govt. handouts will not work! They say well the rich must pay their fair share! Wow what is their fair share? pay for everything while other able bodied people pay for nothing because they were to lazy to stay in school and study? I almost forgot, they did not have parents that Made them stay in School! So rich guy you pay for it!

        February 10, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  6. hi


    February 7, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
  7. larry5

    Where did the federal government get the authority to do all this? Wouldn't it be better to leave the money in the states and let them work all this stuff out? They could save a lot of money closing all federal education offices and be done with it. If this continues is this the politicians calling the states stupid or are they calling them suckers? It's got to be one of the two or maybe both.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:08 pm |