Federal education policy experts warn against parts of Florida's pending accountability revisions
Proposed changes to Florida's school grading and accountability laws could put the state at risk of losing its federal No Child Left Behind waiver, an organization of policy experts has cautioned lawmakers.
The House and Senate bills would run afoul of the waiver guidelines, FedNet president Cheryl Sattler wrote Wednesday in a letter to lawmakers. FedNet is an organization of Florida's federal education program officials.
She listed concerns including moves to exempt several groups of students from state testing, and a prohibition on suspending accountability programs. The bills would give schools a one-year break in penalties as Florida moves from one system to another.
"Please consider the ramifications of taking these actions, which will hurt Florida’s poorest students and will almost certainly lead to the State’s having to revert to all of the most stringent requirements of No Child Left Behind," Sattler wrote.
The bills are with the full House and Senate. Final votes have not yet been scheduled. Read on for the FedNet's full letter.
I am writing to you on behalf of Florida’s federal education programs community, to advise you that the current direction of CS/HB 7117/SB 1642 violates Federal law, and will harm Florida’s poorest children.
Education is subject to a blend of Federal and State requirements, especially regarding the state’s accountability system. Florida’s education system currently operates under a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This waiver, granted by the US Department of Education, enables Florida to avoid some of the most onerous federal NCLB requirements, including the use of $138 million (please see list, attached). These funds are currently used to support academic interventions for the lowest-achieving students in Florida’s poorest schools.
Florida’s waiver expires on June 30, 2014, and Florida can opt to apply for an additional year – if the State meets a set of Federal conditions.
Legislative action this session reverses requirements placed on Florida by the US Department of Education. The US Department of Education placed conditions on Florida’s initial waiver in 2012, requiring that it “ensure that all students, including all English learners and all students with disabilities are fully included in the state’s system of differentiated recognition, accountability and support.” (This letter is posted at www2.ed.gov/policy/eseaflex/secretary-letters/fl.html). The State Board of Education changed the school grading system to include both English learners and students with disabilities pursuant to this requirement.
CS/HB 7117/SB 1642, Amendment 2, would include English learners only if they have been enrolled in a U.S. school for two years. Federal law requires that English learners be included in accountability systems after attending U.S. schools for one year.
Further, CS/HB 7117/SB 1642 would exempt numerous students with disabilities from state testing. Federal law requires that at least 99 percent of students with disabilities must be included in the State’s accountability system. This exemption appears to violate Federal law.
CS/HB 7117/SB 1642 also violates other Federal requirements, including adding a transition period during which accountability requirements do not apply to schools or districts (see line 444 and following). The US Department of Education has been very clear regarding suspending accountability. In a recent letter to Tennessee, US DOE staff have clearly stated that an “accountability hiatus” is not acceptable for waiver states.
Please consider the ramifications of taking these actions, which will hurt Florida’s poorest students and will almost certainly lead to the State’s having to revert to all of the most stringent requirements of No Child Left Behind.
If you have specific questions, you may want to contact Scott Sargrad, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Strategic Initiatives at the US Department of Education, at Scott.Sargrad@ed.gov or (202) 401-0113. If you would like specific examples of the harm that schools and districts will suffer if Florida loses its waiver, please contact me directly: Cheryl@ethicallc.com or (850) 766-7216.
Sincerely, Cheryl L. Sattler, Ph.D., President, FedNet