OKC superintendent blames politics in NCLB waiver decision

Jake Steel teaching seventh grade academic achievement at John Marshall High School. (Mark Hancock)

Jake Steel teaching 7th Grade Academic Achievement at John Marshall High School. (Mark Hancock)

As lawmakers traded blame following news that Oklahoma’s request for a No Child Left Behind waiver had been denied, Oklahoma City Public Schools superintendent Robert Neu had harsh words for those on both sides of the debate.

“The adults are at fault,” Neu said. “I’m talking about the White House, I’m talking about the U.S. Department of Education, I’m talking about our state Legislature.”

Oklahoma lawmakers voted to repeal Common Core school standards earlier this year and requested a waiver from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standards, which is an option the Obama administration has offered states that develop an alternative system. However, without Common Core or an acceptable replacement, the federal government denied the waiver request, making Oklahoma just the second state to be turned down.

“I think the decision by the White House to overturn the waiver reminds me that two wrongs don’t make a right,” Neu said. “The fact that our state Legislature repealed Common Core knowing that this could be an impact of that decision is very concerning to me. Basically it puts our children at academic risk.”

Under NCLB, which Oklahoma schools will now have to operated under, low performing schools have far less flexibility on how they can spend federal funds. Neu said the OKC district could lose control of anywhere from $5 to $8 million and it could mean taking some dollars out of classrooms.

“What we know is that we are going to lose flexibility in our spending,” Neu said. “That could ultimately reduce the teaching force, especially for the kids that are most at risk.”

Without the waiver, Oklahoma school districts are required to set aside 20 percent of Title I funds to provide supplemental education support to students enrolled in the site, which could include outside tutoring.

In a letter to State Superintendent Janet Barresi, U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary Deborah Delisle said the federal government wasn’t able to track educational standards in Oklahoma because it had decided to reject Common Core.

Without the waiver, as much as $100 million in education funding across the state could be restricted.

Oklahoma lawmakers who supported the repeal of Common Core said Thursday’s decision was political retaliation from Washington.

“It is outrageous that President Obama and Washington bureaucrats are trying to dictate how Oklahoma schools spend education dollars,” Gov. Mary Fallin said in a statement. “Because of overwhelming opposition from Oklahoma parents and voters to Common Core, Washington is now acting to punish us.”

While elected officials traded blame, Neu said children were being used as pawns.

“This is the adults in the system using education for political purpose,” Neu said. “It’s time to stop the political rhetoric and focus on our students.”

Ben Felder

Ben is an urban affairs reporter covering local government and education in Oklahoma City. He lives in OKC with his wife, Lori, and son, Satchel. Ben holds a masters in new media journalism from Full Sail University and is an OKC transplant from Kansas City, Mo. Twitter: @benfelder_okg

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