About That Federal Funding Regarding Opt Out…. **UPDATED**

As parents continue to opt their children out of state-mandated standardized testing across the country, school districts, state departments, and others continue to issue threats of Federal funding cuts if schools don’t reach the 95% minimum for student participation.  But are these threats validated?  Has this been done before?

Yesterday, Valerie Strauss with the Washington Post asked this very same question, in  this article.

“The Department of Education’s statements appear deliberately misleading. They confound the law’s requirement that states administer a testing system that covers all children with the non-existent requirement that all children take the test. They imply that a state that allows opting out is at risk of violating NCLB, even though seven states (Utah, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and California) already have such provisions and none has lost a penny in federal funding due to these provisions.”

In New Jersey, over 40 schools did not meet the 95% mark last year and not a single one of them received one penny of Federal funding cuts from the US DOE.  In fact, last week, the House in the New Jersey General Assembly unanimously passed a bill allowing for parent opt out.  It still has to face the New Jersey Senate, but there is a lot of support for this bill from parents.

A couple weeks ago, Diane Ravitch wrote a bizarre story about US DOE Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  Apparently, he took a wrong turn on his way to deliver a speech at a school in Chicago, and when he found himself surrounded by parents, he denied ever talking about funding cuts.  The Chicago School District recently tried to have only 10% of students take the state standardized test, but they backed down when the Feds stated funding cuts would be issued if they tried this.  But this conversation took a strange turn:

“But isn’t the mandate being dictated by the federal government? Isn’t that what’s behind the threat to withhold $1 billion in funding that forced Chicago’s hand?

“No. You’re wrong. . . . You’re making stuff up. You don’t have your facts straight,” Duncan said.”

The threat of Federal funding cuts comes from the requirements of No Child Left Behind.  The Obama administration continually avoid the edicts of NCLB by having states sign waivers to the most stringent requirements.  Yes, schools are required to administer standardized testing based on the state standards, however, there is no law requiring students to actually take the test.

In Delaware, Federal funding amounts to about 6.6% of the funding for education.  Considering the Delaware Department of Education spends an exorbitant amount of money on needless programs and salaries, as well as a foolish charter school provision where they are allowed to keep transportation surplus funds after they reach their yearly amount, I’m sure Delaware can make up for these funds.

According to FairTest.org, in the below document, the reason the 95% mark was established in the first place was because schools were the ones not having special needs students test in order to bump up their scores.  It was never intended as a means to discourage opt out.

As more students in Delaware will begin taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment after Spring Break, schools will see more parents opting their children out.  As a result, we will see the school districts issue the veiled Federal funding cut threat.  But this game of cat and mouse is just that: a veiled and empty threat.

UPDATED, 4/3/15, 2:24pm: Education Week is now jumping on this story, probably in response to the Washington Post article from yesterday.

“Although states have yet to sound any opt-out alarms at the Education Department, state officials in Colorado want to add language to the state’s waiver from provisions of the NCLB law through the waiver-renewal process that would ensure that opt-outs don’t count against a school’s 95 percent participation threshold.”

Education Week continued to write about the Federal cuts schools could face in response to States asking the US DOE for guidance on these issues:

“According to those letters, the tools at the Education Department’s disposal include (in escalating order of severity):

  • A formal request that a state comply;
  • Increased department monitoring of a state;
  • Conditions on federal Title I aid provided for low-income students, or on the state’s waiver from provisions of the NCLB law for the 42 states that have one.
  • Placing a state on “high-risk” status, although the letters did not give more specifics;
  • Issuing a cease-and-desist order;
  • Entering into a compliance agreement with a state;
  • Withholding all or a portion of a state’s Title I administrative funds;
  • Suspending, and then withholding, all or a portion of a state’s Title I grant.”

There is one part of Education Week though that tends to make me doubt the veracity of all their stories, or who their biases may lean towards, and that’s this:

“Coverage of the implementation of college and career-ready standards is supported in part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.”

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