US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Alexander, Kline Call for GAO Study on Education Department’s Waiver Requirements

Leaders want information on how conditional ESEA waivers affect states and how department uses information provided by states to consider waiver requests

Tuesday, August 12, 2014Liz Wolgemuth 202-228-1263

Washington, D.C., Aug. 12 -  Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the senior Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) today requested a study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver policies.

 

In a letter to GAO, they wrote, “In 2011, the department began issuing waivers to states regarding specific requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, and to date, 42 states and the District of Columbia have received ESEA waivers.  In order to receive waivers, these states were required to comply with a new set of requirements, not authorized by Congress, related to standards and assessments, school accountability, and teacher and principal evaluation systems.”

 

The lawmakers noted the supporting documentation required to obtain waivers in their home states, which ranged from more than 700 to more than 1,000 pages. “However, Congress has little information about how the department utilizes the data required of these and other states to grant, deny, renew, or revoke a state waiver,” they wrote. “Additionally, Congress has little insight into how states are impacted by the time and cost associated with applying for and implementing these waiver requirements.”

 

“Finally, the department has recently altered various requirements for certain states regarding implementation timelines for teacher and principal evaluation systems. At the same time, other states have had their waivers put on ‘high risk’ status, and Washington recently had its waiver revoked, over issues related to teacher and principal evaluation systems. The department has provided no justifications for these seemingly contradictory decisions.”

 

 

The full text of the letter is below:

 

August 12, 2014

 

 

 

The Honorable Gene Dodaro

Comptroller General

U.S. Government Accountability Office

441 G Street, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20548

 

Dear Mr. Dodaro:

 

We are writing to request a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of the U.S. Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act(ESEA) waiver policies.  In 2011, the department began issuing waivers to states regarding specific requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, and to date, 42 states and the District of Columbia have received ESEA waivers.  In order to receive waivers, these states were required to comply with a new set of requirements, not authorized by Congress, related to standards and assessments, school accountability, and teacher and principal evaluation systems.

 

For Tennessee, the supporting documentation required for its waiver request resulted in a binder that was more than one thousand pages thick. Minnesota’s approved application is more than 700 pages long. However, Congress has little information about how the department utilizes the data required of these and other states to grant, deny, renew, or revoke a state waiver. Additionally, Congress has little insight into how states are impacted by the time and cost associated with applying for and implementing these waiver requirements.

 

Finally, the department has recently altered various requirements for certain states regarding implementation timelines for teacher and principal evaluation systems. At the same time, other states have had their waivers put on “high risk” status, and Washington recently had its waiver revoked, over issues related to teacher and principal evaluation systems. The department has provided no justifications for these seemingly contradictory decisions.

 

Accordingly, key questions we would like GAO to explore include:

                                   

1.    What processes and criteria does the Department of Education use to approve, deny, renew, and revoke states’ ESEA waiver applications?  How does the department use the data it requires states to provide when applying for and renewing waivers?

 

2.    What changes have states made in order to meet the department’s conditions for the approval and renewal of a waiver? 

 

3.    What issues have selected states, including states that have not applied for a waiver, had waiver applications rejected, and had approved waivers revoked, faced in deciding whether to apply for and implement an ESEA waiver, such as time and resources used to produce waiver and waiver renewal applications and the possible need for legislative changes?

 

4.    To what extent are states able to implement accountability and evaluation systems consistent with existing state laws and policies?  What barriers exist for states and districts in adapting accountability and evaluation systems to their unique needs? 

 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

Lamar Alexander                                                                    John Kline

Ranking Member                                                                    Chairman

U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education,                      U.S. House Committee on

Labor and Pensions                                                                 Education and the Workforce

 

 

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