The U.S. Department of Education denied the Iowa Department of Education’s No Child Left Behind waiver request. The catching point was over how teacher evaluations were going to be conducted. In a letter sent by the Department to Jason Glass, the director of the Iowa Department of Education, they stated:
According to the information in your request, the Iowa Department of Education does not currently have authority to ensure implementation of teacher and principal evaluation and support systems consistent with this principle of ESEA flexibility. Because of these constraints, the Department is not able to approve Iowa’s request for flexibility at this time.
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad in a statement released this afternoon blamed the Iowa Legislature for inaction instead of criticizing Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama for making the waiver conditional in the first place:
Responsibility for the denial of this request lies squarely at the feet of the Iowa Legislature, which did too little to improve our schools despite repeated warnings. The education reform plan Lt. Governor Reynolds and I proposed would have ensured a waiver from the onerous federal No Child Left Behind law. Lawmakers, instead, chose to delay updating the educator evaluation system by requiring a task force study the issue and make recommendations for consideration by the 2013 Legislature. The U.S. Department of Education, however, left the door open to approving Iowa’s request for flexibility if lawmakers come back to the table and pass meaningful reform that gives the Iowa Department of Education the authority it needs to update evaluations now.
Iowa has slipped to the middle of the pack in education in part because we did not adopt the same rigorous policies as other states receiving the waiver. This reflects poorly on Iowa, and our students deserve better.
So basically the U.S. Department of Education said Iowa is not getting the waiver because they lack the authority to mandate to local school districts how they do their evaluations. And the problem with this is what exactly? Here is a reminder of what Governor Branstad wanted if he could get his way. In HSB 517 which was the original education reform package that the Branstad administration submitted not only were public schools mandates, but accredited non-public schools were mandated to use the state’s evaluation system for teachers (teachers and administrators are to be evaluated every year). It provided an exception, but only for public schools (page 6, line 13). Based on what was required for an evaluation doing those on a annual basis would have proven to be onerous for smaller school districts especially. Also it wasn’t just that teachers and administrators were evaluated, but the state wanted school districts to do it exactly their way.
So we didn’t get the waiver because the Legislature chose to honor local control and to not place a mandate on non-public schools which receive minimal if any public funds. That bill was a travesty. To top it off the waiver was submitted with full knowledge that federal strings were attached which blindly ignores the 10th Amendment. Basically they were exchanging one federal mandate for another. On top of that the waivers are unconstitutional since Congress never repealed No Child Left Behind, what authority does the Department of Education have to ignore the law even if it is a bad one? None. I agree that it is a bad law, but if they had to offer waivers they should have offered them without condition.
Governor Branstad however has bought into the idea that there is a federal role in education and that education must be centralized at the state level. If that were not the case he wouldn’t have offered the reform package he did which no person who is serious about local control could ever accept.