What Now For School Districts After Federal Waiver Loss?

Apr 25, 2014

Parents will be able to request busing to another school rather than send their child to a "failing" school.
Parents will be able to request busing to another school rather than send their child to a "failing" school.
Credit Flickr Photo/Christos Tsoumplekas

School districts across Washington are examining how they’ll be affected by the state’s loss of its No Child Left Behind waiver and resulting loss of flexibility over how they spend $38 million in federal funding. That amount represents 20 percent of the federal Title 1 funding for the state's highest-poverty schools.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, schools not meeting federal improvement goals on standardized tests have to reserve that portion of the federal grant to send at-risk students to private tutors and bus students to higher-achieving schools at their parents' request.

Michael Stone, who oversees the federal grant for Seattle Public Schools, said he doesn’t expect busing will be a huge expense for the district. He said before the waiver, most families that had that option chose to stay at their home schools. In the 2011-2012 school year, the final year before the waiver was granted, only about 250 students were taking advantage of the busing provision.

Stone's biggest concern, he said, is handling the private tutoring contracts "just because of what it takes to manage that, and how little control we have over who is working with the students, how they’re working with the students, what programs they’re using, whether they're aligned [with school curricula]."

Stone also said he has had other problems with some private tutoring companies. Although only certain students qualify for the federally-funded assistance, Stone said some tutoring companies in years past assured families that their students would qualify, then billed families after the companies discovered that the students didn't qualify under the law after all.

During the two years the state had its No Child Left Behind waiver, districts were able to use the funding  on interventions such as afterschool, on-campus tutoring from district teachers instead of using private tutors.

Stone said in Seattle, some of that on-campus tutoring may go away. But the district should be able to maintain other support for struggling students, such as instructional coaches that mentor teachers in particular subjects, through other funding sources.

In Tacoma Public Schools, spokesman Dan Voelpel said his district will also likely retain positions, including mentor teachers that the district was able to afford during the waiver, but likely only by cutting some teacher or assistant teacher positions across the district. Voelpel said he had no estimate of how many could lose their jobs, but expected the district will have it figured out by mid May.

In other districts, including Kent, district officials said it may be some time before they know what the ultimate impact will be of the loss of the state's waiver.