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Originally published Saturday, August 23, 2014 at 4:04 PM

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Editorial: Why state schools are failing federal standards

Voters should remember the consequences of lawmakers’ refusal to comply with federal law: School districts have lost control over millions of dollars intended to help struggling students.


Seattle Times Editorial

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Intransigence by some state lawmakers earlier this year means families across the state will soon receive letters declaring their schools are failing to meet federal standards.

Collectively, local district leaders lost the ability to invest $40 million in Title I funds as they see fit into programs to help struggling and low-income students.

This was a political statement for many lawmakers with real and disappointing consequences, especially for districts that serve lower-income students.

During the 2014 session, legislators refused to make a simple change in state law to require student test scores to play some role in teacher evaluations — a requirement voiced by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan for the state to continue to receive its waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law. Exactly how much would have been left up to individual districts to determine.

Opposition from the left and the right sunk the bill and Washington became the first state in the nation to lose the waiver. Conservative lawmakers were opposed because they didn’t want the feds telling the state what to do; more liberal lawmakers defied Gov. Jay Inslee’s request for support and bent to the will of the Washington Education Association, which opposes connections between student performance and teacher evaluations.

Now, some political candidates are recycling the union’s talking points and claiming in Seattle Times endorsement meetings that the money is still there and it's no big deal if administrators lose flexibility in spending.

Wrong.

The inability to direct money where it is most needed affects each district differently, especially those with high numbers of students from low-income families such as the Seattle Public Schools, which receives about $2 million annually.

The district last month asked Secretary Duncan for its own waiver so it can continue to use the funds to help its lowest-performing schools:

“A return to the NCLB system of public school choice and supplemental external services would be disruptive to the progress we have made,” the district said in its application, “and the loss of flexibility would introduce uncertainty, place at risk our planned investments for 2014-15, and undermine our strategies for supporting and improving our highest needs schools.”

In previous years, Highline Public Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield said about $1 million in Title I funds helped the district add full-day kindergarten classes. Now, that money must be set aside to transport children to schools of their choice or to pay third-party tutors such as Kumon Learning Centers. The district could apply to be a provider, but there is no certainty. Only if parents don’t seek private tutoring for their children might the district be able to get the money later. Administrators say it’s hard to plan ahead without steady funding.

Other districts report they will have to cut existing programs.

The No Child Left Behind law is unquestionably flawed. But states must work with it until Congress makes changes. Lawmakers should have been able to work out a compromise to retain funding. They failed.

As voters consider their ballots this November, they should elect representatives who will fight for common sense and what’s best for their local district’s students — not buckle under pressure from anti-federal ideologues and a union that remains ideologically opposed to accountability standards.

In this case, pragmatism, not politics, should have ruled the day on behalf of the state’s children most in need of academic help.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).



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