Mid-year teacher layoffs are a possibility if Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind waiver is rejected by the U.S. Department of Education.

Failure to get the one-year waiver, for which the state submitted a request Tuesday, could tie up nearly $28 million in federal funding used for programs that help students in poverty.

Instead of being used to fund reading programs or to hire teachers, the money would be used for programs such as tutoring or to bus students to different schools.

A decision from the U.S. Department of Education will likely come after school has started statewide. There is no timeline for when a decision will be made.

Tying up the federal funding mid-year could cause headaches at the district level, school officials have said.

“Could it mean (staff) cuts? It could,” Oklahoma State Department of Education spokesman Phil Bacharach said. “If it will is another matter.”

The waiver is needed to keep Oklahoma schools from being forced to meet federal academic requirements that critics have called nearly impossible to attain. Schools that fail to have all of their students proficient in all subject areas would be labeled as failing under NCLB.

Oklahoma estimates that 1,600 of nearly 1,750 districts would have failed to meet the requirement during the 2013-2014 school year.

In the state’s request for a waiver extension, State Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi wrote, “Losing this flexibility (of a waiver) would be akin to erasing incredible progress toward helping Oklahoma children build success — not just in the current school year, but for an entire generation and beyond.”

Washington state lost its waiver earlier this year for failing to implement teacher evaluations as promised under its waiver. In Iowa, some districts have cut teacher positions partly because the state did not have a NCLB waiver.

The biggest hurdle for Oklahoma could be a requirement to have college and career ready academic standards in place.

Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill in June that repealed the controversial Common Core Academic Standards she once promoted.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan criticized Oklahoma earlier this year for dropping Common Core. Oklahoma will now draft new standards to replace Common Core. Those standards should be in place in two years.

The state will revert to prior Oklahoma Priority Academic Student Skills while new standards are drafted.

A Tuesday deadline to determine if PASS meets college and career ready criteria passed with no decision from the state Regents for Higher Education. It’s unclear when a decision will be made.

The state Department of Education has already expressed doubts about PASS.

“(Superintendent Janet) Barresi has already said the current standards are substandard,” Bacharach said.

Nate Robson can be reached at nrobson@oklahomawatch.org

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