Oklahoma is officially losing its No Child Left Behind waiver, a move that will label most of the state’s schools as failing to meet federal guidelines and will tie up as much as $30 million in federal funding.

State Superintendent Janet Barresi accused the Obama administration of putting money and politics before the education of Oklahoma students in revoking the waiver Thursday.

State leaders knew the waiver was in jeopardy after Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill in June that repealed the Common Core academic standards in Oklahoma, a move lawmakers said could have a fiscal impact on districts.

“Is that what this is about, chasing money?” Barresi asked Thursday. “Or is this about doing what’s right for our children?”

The only other state whose waiver has been revoked is Washington, which opted not to require teacher evaluations be tied to student test results. On Thursday, the Obama administration granted a one-year waiver extension to Indiana and Kansas.

In a written statement, Gov. Mary Fallin also criticized the Obama administration for revoking the waiver.

“It is outrageous that President Obama and Washington bureaucrats are trying to dictate how Oklahoma schools spend education dollars,” she said. “Because of overwhelming opposition from Oklahoma parents and voters to Common Core, Washington is now acting to punish us. This is one more example of an out-of-control presidency that places a politicized Washington agenda over the well-being of Oklahoma students.”

Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Robert Neu and Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard said they were not surprised about losing the waiver because of the repeal of Common Core.

It’s not immediately clear how tying up funding will affect either district.

“Simply put, this is bad for our children,” Neu said in a written statement. “Oklahoma City’s educators are committed to making sure each of our students reaches his or her full potential, and I know that our talented and committed staff will continue to serve our children.”

Ballard said, “This has serious implications for our district, as limitations will be placed upon how we can spend federal dollars.  It will take some time for us to fully measure the impact on TPS students.”

A condition of the waiver is having college and career-ready academic standards in place, but the bill passed in June sets a course for new standards not being in place until 2016. The state will revert to the previous Oklahoma Priority Academic Student Skills while new standards are drafted.

An Aug. 12 deadline to determine if PASS meets college- and career-ready criteria went by with no decision from the state Regents for Higher Education. It’s unclear when a decision will be made.

Barresi said the number of Oklahoma freshmen taking college remediation courses indicates that the PASS standards are likely not college- and career-ready.

The waiver was 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.

The waiver will also attach strings to $20 million to $30 million in federal funding that goes to the state’s poorest schools.

Phil Bacharach, spokesman for the State Department of Education, said earlier this month that districts could face mid-year layoffs if they lose the waiver because money used to hire teachers would have to be used for tutoring or transporting students to schools that are meeting No Child Left Behind requirements.

No Child Left Behind also imposed a seven-year timeline on schools to meet federal proficiency benchmarks. Schools that failed to hit those benchmarks could be forced to take corrective action.

Actions could include, in year one, notifying parents that their children’s school is failing, which is occurring in Washington. Other options are, in year five, mandatory restructuring of a failing school and, in year seven, the state Department of Education taking over a school.

The state needs time to figure out where schools fall on that timeline, because the years in which a waiver was in effect will be counted, Barresi said. The state has a year to determine this.

St. Rep. Jason Nelson
St. Rep. Jason Nelson Credit: Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, who helped draft the bill repealing Common Core, downplayed the impact Thursday.

Nelson said diverting federal funds for tutoring or transportation is a small price to pay to protect Oklahoma’s education standards from the federal government.

Nelson added that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has admitted No Child Left Behind has failed as a law, which is why waivers were granted.

He added throwing Oklahoma back under broken standards will not make Oklahoma students better, and is instead meant to punish the state.

“Because (the U.S. Department of Education) is upset that we’re trying to take back control of our education system, they have taken a punitive action that ought to make it crystal clear we made the right decision,” Nelson said.

Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said losing the waiver hurts districts, teachers and students by forcing standards on districts that are impossible to meet, and by putting regulations on how funding is used.

“Lawmakers like Rep. Nelson were willing to flip a coin to see if we would lose our waiver by repealing Common Core,” Linda said. “They lost the flip.”


Executive directors, Oklahoma State School Boards Association, Cooperative Council of Oklahoma School Administration and United Suburban Schools Association:
The waiver denial “is disappointing but comes as no surprise. This was a foreseeable consequence of the passage of House Bill 3399 (which repealed Common Core). Today’s announcement means schools throughout the state could have a change in school improvement designation. The change means schools will have to re-examine their budgets and employment contracts to comply with the No Child Left Behind requirements.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa 
“President Obama and the United States Department of Education have chosen to place politics ahead of the well-being of Oklahomans. Our education reform efforts have been squarely focused on ushering in higher standards and empowering parents with choice and more ability to direct their children’s education. Unfortunately, the President and Washington bureaucrats have responded with a decision that attempts to place additional burdens on schools.”

Amber England, executive director of Stand for Children Oklahoma, which supported Common Core standards
“Today’s news about Oklahoma losing its No Child Left Behind Waiver is a direct result of the failed leadership of Representative Jason Nelson and Senator Josh Brecheen, who decided to place election year politics before students when leading the charge at the Legislature to repeal the existing college and career ready standards … Districts across the state could now be forced to lay off hundreds of teachers, leaving thousands of at-risk kids in the dark. This would just add insult to injury as the state is already grappling with a severe teacher shortage.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn
“Greater state and local control over education funding is vital to the success of Oklahoma’s students. The experiment in federal micro-management of our nation’s schools has proven to be a failure. This is what makes the Secretary’s decision to revoke Oklahoma’s ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education)_ flexibility so disappointing.”

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe
“The Obama Administration doesn’t like when Oklahomans buck big government regulations, and today the Administration responded by penalizing our children with failing to grant the one-year extension of the ESEA flexibility.”

U.S. Rep. James Lankford
“The revocation of Oklahoma’s NCLB waiver—just as students begin a new school year—demonstrates this Administration’s unwillingness to allow states the time to establish state-specific, high academic standards … “This is a glaring example of why the federal government should not dictate local education policy.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine
This politically motivated decision is the perfect example of how the unconstitutional federalization of education has effectively taken away the power reserved for the states and the people by our founders. It’s time to abolish the federal Department of Education and return power to the states consistent with the 10th Amendment.”

Joy Hofmeister, GOP candidate for state schools superintendent
“This is an example of a punitive overreach by the federal government that shows a lack of caring for our students, and I consider it an outrage to penalize students and children simply because the Obama administration is angry that our state has chosen to chart it’s own course on educational standards. This is a classic ‘Big Brother knows best’ approach. It is the right of a state to chart its own education standards.”

Rep. Justin Wood, R-Shawnee
“I’ve spent the past week visiting the 12 schools in my district and each administrator asked about the NCLB waiver … Unfortunately, the Department of Education acted hastily, without input from our regents and without consideration of the consequences facing our educators and children in the classroom.”

The letter from the U.S. Department of Education to Superintendent Janet Barresi rejecting the NCLB waiver request:

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