Monday, July 22, 2013

Overhaul of No Child Left Behind law expected to have little impact in Kansas

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

The U.S. House finally passed legislation Friday to overhaul No Child Left Behind law, a federal law governing federal funding for public schools that was supposed to be reauthorized nearly seven years ago.

But education officials in Kansas say the bill would have little effect here, or in most other states, because most of the changes it calls for have already been enacted through federal waivers granted earlier by the Obama administration.

"What we have heard from the (Kansas State Department of Education) and everything I've read indicates it would not require Kansas to do anything significantly different from what is under the waiver," said Mark Tallman, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards.

Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker said she could not comment because she had not yet read the final version of the House bill.

No Child Left Behind is the name of the 2001 federal law to reauthorize the 1960s-era Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the basic law that distributes much of the money the federal government sends to states and local districts through programs such as Title I, which provides direct aid to schools in high poverty areas.

Under No Child Left Behind, the federal government began, for the first time, tying federal funding to student achievement on reading and math tests.

Among other things, it requires states to test students each year in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. It also required them to meet targets, known as "Adequate Yearly Progress," or AYP goals, to increase the number of students scoring proficient or better on reading and math tests, and to close achievement gaps between different subgroups of students.

It also mandated that 100 percent of all students meet state proficiency standards by the spring of 2014.

That law was due for reauthorization again in 2007, but Congress has been unable to pass such a bill.

In 2011, citing frustration with Congress' inaction, the Obama administration began offering waivers from the laws mandates, provided that states agreed to enact other reforms. Those included adopting rigorous academic standards for reading and math; devising new methods for holding schools and districts accountable for improving achievement and closing achievement gaps; and adopting new rules for evaluating teachers based in large part on their effectiveness at raising student test scores.

Kansas was granted a provisional waiver in 2012. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 38 other states and the District of Columbia have also received waivers, while eight other states have waiver applications pending.

According to Congressional summaries, the House bill, known as the Student Success Act, would enact into law many of those same changes that are now available through waivers. It would also give states and schools more flexibility in how they spend federal funds, consolidating many separate funding programs into block grants.

The bill passed the House on a party-line vote of 221-207. All of the yes votes came from Republicans, including all four members of the Kansas delegation.

"For far too long in this country we've tried a one-size-fits-all, top-down federal approach to educating our bright learners," 3rd District Rep. Kevin Yoder of Johnson County said on the House floor.

The Democrat-controlled Senate is considering a different version of a No Child Left Behind overhaul. That bill, called the Strengthening America's Schools Act, passed out of committee last month and is awaiting action by the full Senate.