Oklahoma and Washington have finally reached an agreement after federal officials nixed waivers of education requirements that would have cost the Sooner State as much as $165 million - all as a result of Oklahoma opting out of Common Core.
The U.S. Department of Education announced in August it would not grant Oklahoma a reprieve from the No Child Left Behind law, which says states must demonstrate that a standard of getting high schooler prepared for the rigors of college. The move made Oklahoma the second state to lose its reprieve from the law, although Indiana was granted a one-year extension of its waiver because it found a replacement for the Common Core standards.
Oklahoma officials said without a waiver similar to Indiana's, state taxpayers will be out $165 million. That threat is what prompted Sooner State officials to send a 139-page appeal to the federal Department of Education making the case for Oklahoma's educational standards as an able substitute for Common Core.
“We predicted that without the Common Core piece, our waiver would not be renewed on the same basis it was the first time,” said Steven Crawford, director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA).
The DOE in Washington sent its decision to Oklahoma State Superintendent Janet Barresi, saying that Oklahoma schools would no longer be granted a waiver from 10 major requirements under Bush-era law in August, prompting the wrangling.
“Oklahoma was unable to demonstrate that its students are learning high standards this year, which the state committed to do under its ESEA flexibility request," said DOE spokeswoman Dorie Nolt.
On Monday, the DOE backtracked on its earlier determination and granted Oklahoma the waiver, but not without striking fear into the hearts of Oklahoma state officials.
Rep. Jason Nelson, who authored state legislation to repeal Common Core, called it "unnecessarily political."
“I’m not a big political person, so I’m kind of sitting back and looking from the outside, but yes, it looks like a big political game to me,” said Jody Maxey, a sixth grade science teacher.
Bobby Waitman, superintendent of Tuttle Public Schools, believes the removal of the waiver could mean trouble for Oklahoma school
“That waiver being revoked is a challenge to many districts in Oklahoma,” he said.
Oklahoma’s flexibility waiver from the law included a provision that exempted the State from requiring that all students meet or exceed the State’s proficient level of academic achievement on state assessments by the end of the 2013-2014 school year. It is estimated by CCOSA that only 160 school sites out of 1,800 in the state currently meet this requirement.
The waiver also included requests for flexibility in spending Title I funds and exemption from professional development for some teachers. It is estimated by the Oklahoma State Department of Education that these two requirements alone could cost the state as much as $175 million.
Crawford was confident that Oklahoma’s waiver request will come through this time.
“The fact that the standards were approved as college and career ready should shorten the process and should make it doable in the timeframe allowed. Because, in my mind, it just makes sense [to grant the waiver] if you have something that has already been certified as college and career ready.”
So what is college and career ready? And who determines it? Does that decision belong to the states? Or does the Federal Government have that right? Maxey has a strong message to both.
“At the end of the day, it’s the students. It’s not about me, it’s not about you, and it’s not about the government. It’s about those students and preparing them for what they need for the rest of their lives.”