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.”

Smarter Balanced Opt Out Letter For Delaware Parents To Use

The response to the Delaware parent opt out movement has been incredible.  Since I posted the opt out articles yesterday, I have heard from many parents on here or on social media supporting this.  Many have asked what to put in the letter.  With the help of http://fairtest.org I have drafted a suggested letter for your use.  It’s a great letter because it explains why you don’t want your child to take the Smarter Balanced Assessment, what your Constitutional rights are, the legal ground the school or state has in not allowing you to do this: NONE, and what you expect your child to be doing while other students take the test.  If you have any questions or comments, please let me know via comment on here.   I would also take a look at the fairtest website above.  They go into great detail about your rights and the parent opt-out movement.

I have had a few parents ask how this could affect a school choice application.  Since the scores of the Smarter Balanced Assessment won’t come out until the summer, and you would have received an answer to your school choice application well before that time, it should not play a factor.  Any school denying your child a spot in their school over a parent exercising their Constitutional rights is on very shaky legal ground and you could certainly have just cause if your child was denied admission based on a parent opt out.  To be clear though, I am not an attorney, so this is your choice!

Here is the suggested letter to use.  I would include the school’s name and address, the date, your child’s name, and your name and address.  Make copies!!!  You can bring it to a school board meeting (for dates at times for your district, charter or vocational see my article from yesterday), or bring it to the school.  I would bring a separate form indicating the school recognizes they have received an opt out letter from you and have them sign it.

 

Dear

Please accept this letter as record of my decision to refuse for my child (name) to participate in the Smarter Balanced Assessment at (school) during the 2014-2015 school year. My refusal to participate in the Smarter Balanced Assessment is because I believe standardized high stakes testing take away time from the instructional experiences my child might otherwise receive. I want more teaching and learning, and less testing! The state seems to believe that my child is obligated to participate in testing because the state or the policy makers demand it, when in fact the social contract of public schooling is grounded on the premise that the state and policy makers are obligated to the needs of children. I am aware that there is no “opt out” clause in the state of Delaware. But the state has yet to provide any legal documentation that my child may not exercise his or her right to refuse the tests.

According to the U.S Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” Furthermore, the Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35) The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten “liberties” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (262 U.S. 399). In recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children’s education, the Court has stated, “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder.” (Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158).

I understand that it is state and local policy to require all students to be evaluated for proficiency in various subject areas at each grade level. However, I believe that testing is not synonymous with standardized testing and request that the school and my child’s teacher(s) evaluate his or her progress using alternative (and more meaningful) measures including: project-based assignments, teacher-made tests, portfolios, and performance-based assessments, to be determined at the discretion of the teachers and myself together.

My child is prepared to come to school every day during the testing window with alternative meaningful self-directed learning activities that support the essential curriculum, or is willing to participate in other meaningful activities as determined by the school or his or her teachers during testing times. It is my child’s right as a public school student to receive instruction daily, and if you do not do so, I will file a discrimination report with the district and consult an attorney. I am a taxpayer, and you do not have the authority to bar my child from accessing this public good of which I contribute in the form of tax payment. I will call the police if you attempt to bar my child from entering the building. However, should you prove to me in writing that this last alternative is legally REQUIRED, then I respectfully request to both see that policy as stated IN WRITING so that I may show it to my attorney, and I require WRITTEN documentation that my child and his parents WILL NOT be punished for ‘delinquency’ –and that we are EXEMPT from the usual attendance policies.

If my child is forced to sit in the testing room and stare at the wall for upwards of 70 minutes in total silence without being allowed to leave the test room, nor move nor speak, while refusing to test, or is intimidated in any way, will be seen as tantamount to solitary confinement. If you attempt to force my child to do so, I will report you to the child abuse authorities. If anyone places their hands on my child after he/she has respectfully declined to report to a test site, he/she has been instructed to call the police and file charges.

I do not recognize the authority of the letter the Delaware Department of Education crafted to have schools give parents when they opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment as it has no legal bearing.

I have a tremendous respect for my child’s teachers and his school. They do a tremendous job and I wish to continue to send my son to a school where he looks forward to participating every day. My school’s teachers and administrators understand that this action is no way a reflection of my feelings towards them nor is it intended as an attack toward them or the great work that they do every day. My issue is with high stakes standardized testing and the harm it does to children and our public schools. I believe we can work constructively together to ensure that my child will not be negatively affected in any way, and that successful alternatives that are neither punitive nor require further legal complications are indeed possible.

Thank you.

Respectfully yours,