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No Child Left Behind waiver could cost $2 billion, report says

California officials say meeting the federal law's requirements would be expensive and imply the state shouldn't seek such relief. Teachers unions and the PTA back the conclusion, but others disagree.

November 12, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

It would cost cash-strapped California at least $2 billion to meet the requirements for relief from the federal No Child Left Behind law, state officials said.

Although the state Board of Education made no decision at its meeting in Sacramento, the clear implication of a staff report presentation was that California should spurn an opportunity to seek a waiver from federal rules that sanction schools for low test scores. The No Child Left Behind rules are widely unpopular here and elsewhere in the country.

"It seems like this is very costly. The deadline is very tight if not impossible," said state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, summarizing feedback he said he received from educators around the state as well as from his staff. "The best solution to a bad law is to replace it with a good law."

Qualifying for a waiver would commit the state to using standardized test scores or equivalent data as part of evaluations for teachers and principals. There are also other requirements from the federal government, including some that the state has already agreed to.

Torlakson's conclusions, delivered at the board meeting, were supported by the state's two major teachers unions and the California PTA. But others took issue with those views.

A state association representing administrators said a waiver might be feasible as well as preferable to the status quo. Without a waiver, an increasing number of schools, even improving ones, will be labeled as failures because of steeply rising improvement targets.

Los Angeles Unified belongs to a consortium of districts that endorsed seeking a waiver.

"LAUSD is moving forward [on] many of the principles outlined," said district representative Tommy Chang.

A spokesman for the consortium of school districts flatly contradicted the state analysis, saying the waiver would save money.

U.S. Department of Education officials have encouraged California to apply. About 40 states have signaled that they intend to pursue waivers.

"We're working with any state that is indicating interest to make sure that this is an achievable proposition," said deputy press secretary Daren Briscoe. "We have an interest in helping California and other states succeed in applying and helping them to implement some of these reforms."

Separately, a federal official, who asked not to be named because he provided information that was not approved for release, offered a list of possible funding sources that he said would offset state costs.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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