No Child Left Behind wavering sparks waivers debate

Alexandra Rice Contributor
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Education Secretary Arne Duncan is considering whether to grant waivers to No Child Left Behind Act provisions that fund for after-school tutoring, which some education advocates say would harm students in already failing schools but others support as a smarter way to use federal funds.

Some school districts are requesting the waivers to redirect funds from supplemental education services, such as tutoring, to other spending areas of their choice. Proponents of the waivers say students aren’t using the tutoring services, and funds could be better utilized in other ways.

At a panel discussion on Capitol Hill Wednesday, former Florida Board of Education Chairman T. Willard Fair said he thought some superintendents in his state wanted to do away with the tutoring programs so they wouldn’t be held accountable for any failing students.

“Their inability to deliver,” Fair said, “makes them want to do away with things that expose that inability to deliver.”

Under title I of No Child Left Behind 20 percent of funding from the law is directed toward services for improving the academic achievement of low-income students.

In late February the Department of Education granted the first broad-based waiver covering the entire No Child Left Behind Act to the McPherson Unified school district in Kansas. But so far the Obama administration has not approved any waivers for the specific supplemental education services provision.

The American Association of School Administrators has advocated for waivers to the supplemental education funding requirement for many years, Executive Director Dan Domenech said. And now it is pushing even harder for them because of the struggling economy, which has meant cutbacks in school funding around the country.

The problem, Domenech said, is that under No Child Left Behind the supplemental services have to be outsourced so the tutoring generally takes place outside of the school building.

Lisa Keegan, who was Sen. John McCain’s education expert during his presidential campaigns, also spoke on the panel and said low-income students need the free tutoring, but often they just don’t know such programs exist.

In Arizona, where Keegan was the state schools superintendent in the late 1990s, 7,700 students receive after-school tutoring out of about 50,000 eligible students, she said.

Domenech finds it ironic, he said, that Duncan, who was granted one of the waivers while CEO of Chicago Public Schools, is the person now holding them up.