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Board weighs in on NCLB waiver

Article Date: 
20 June, 2014 (All day)

Morgan County School Board members weighed in on the state issue of extending a No Child Left Behind waiver, saying they don’t want to take a risk and would rather renew the waiver that is set to expire.
If the Utah State Board of Education chooses not to renew the waiver, public schools would have to operate under NCLB standards requiring 100 percent of students perform proficiently at grade level.  
Morgan Superintendent Doug Jacobs said that Morgan Elementary is already one of the best Title 1 schools in the state, ranking in the 90th percentile.
“We are to the point where we can’t improve more,” School Board Member Jody Hipwell said, definitely not to the 100 percent called for under NCLB.
Many educators and administrators agree that such complete proficiency is all but impossible, meaning most Utah schools would receive a failing grade under NCLB requirements.  
Failing schools must allow more governmental control of Title 1 money, pay for the transportation of students who wish to transfer to a non-failing school, hire tutors, replace staff, invest in new curriculum, and possibly extend the school day or year.
Operating under a NCLB waiver, Utah is not held to the stringent NCLB standards and can use its own grading system.  If the state does not renew the waiver, it stands to lose between $30 million to $50 million in federal funding, said Terryl Warner, the newest member of the Utah State Board of Education representing District 1.
Locally, Morgan would lose about $90,000 in Title 1 funds and possibly another $30,000 in Title 2 money if the waiver is not renewed, said D’Lynn Poll, Morgan School District business manager.
The superintendent of schools in the Logan area said loss of federal money would be “catastrophic,” Warner said.
Warner spoke with Morgan school board members June 10 in an effort to get feedback from her constituents.  She said the state board must vote on the issue in the next 60 days.
“There has to be more to the conversation if you are willing to walk away from $30 million,” said Bruce Galbraith, Morgan School Board president.
Both Warner and Morgan board members agreed that even if they were willing, the state legislature wouldn’t be able to replace the federal money lost any time soon.
But Warner admits that she is hearing from constituents who would rather shake off federal control of local education.
“I have received a number of emails in the last few weeks saying we need to disassociate ourselves from the federal government.  I understand that,” said Warner, who lives in Cache County.  “But if we don’t get a waiver, we lose funding.  I would hate to see us lose that amount of money.”
Warner said she would rather apply for the waiver and in the meantime look for other options to get out from federal control.  She noted that the state board could always back out of the waiver even after applying for it and being approved.
“The downside to not renewing the waiver is we will continue to be under federal control,” Warner said.  “They tell us what we can and can’t do.”
Warner said there is “some talk” that the federal government wouldn’t commandeer Title 1 funds, but in failing to apply for a waiver, Utah would be the first state in the nation to test that theory.
“I’m not willing to take that gamble without getting input,” Warner said.  “I want input.  I want to make sure the tax payers are aware, that administrators and boards are aware.”
“Do I want to call the federal government’s bluff on that?” asked Morgan board member Mark Farmer.  “No.”