WASHINGTON Feb 7 By waiving certain
requirements in the education law known as No Child Left Behind,
the U.S. government has been able to send some states an
additional $2.8 billion in total for schools, Education
Secretary Arne Duncan said at a Senate hearing on Thursday.
"We've tried to free almost $3 billion in ... money under No
Child Left Behind that was prescribed by Washington," he told
the Education Committee.
"We don't have the best ideas here. The best ideas come from
the local level."
No Child Left Behind, the major federal schools law passed
in 2001, tied funding to students' performance on standardized
tests, and penalized schools for "failing" - measures that
educators and lawmakers, including Duncan, have said were too
The law nominally expired five years ago and states have
operated under funding extensions, as well as President Barack
Obama's smaller grants such as "Race to the Top."
In late 2011, Obama offered states waivers to some parts of
No Child Left Behind, as long as they followed his requirements
on college preparation, testing and boosting graduation rates.
"Providing waivers was always, always our 'Plan B,'" said
Duncan about the lack of new legislation.
So far, 34 states and the District of Columbia have been
able to waive out of No Child requirements. Duncan said his
agency is still considering "seven to eight requests."
The committee passed a new version of the education law last
year, but the legislation did not make it to the full chamber
for a vote. Chairman Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, said he
hoped a new bill will be approved by the full Congress for 2013.
"My team and I put in hundreds and hundreds of hours into
what turned out to be a fruitless effort," Duncan said about
helping draft the last bill. "And in all candor I would have
liked to have gone to waivers earlier to give states more time
to be thoughtful."
Republicans at the hearing said the waivers replaced one set
of federal requirements with another, leaving states and school
districts little autonomy.
"This simple waiver authority has turned into a conditional
waiver, with the secretary basically grabbing - grabbing's not
the right word - having more authority to make decisions that in
my view should be made locally by the state and local
government," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee, the most
powerful Republican on the committee.
Duncan countered that criteria for the waivers were simply
to keep schools accountable and ensure states "follow through"
on their commitments.
State and local governments receive about 10 percent of
their education funds from the federal government but public
schools take up huge chunks of their budgets.
The 2007-09 recession drove down their revenues, particularly
the property taxes that cities and school districts use for the
bulk of education funding. The 2009 federal economic stimulus
plan provided extra money for education, most of which was
distributed by the end of 2010.
Recently, states have asked for greater flexibility in how
they spend federal education dollars, saying waivers do not work
for all states and are a temporary fix.
Senators from rural and small states took issue with Race to
the Top, with Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders, an Independent,
saying that "a relatively small amount of the states received
the bulk of the money."
"New York state submitted an application for which they
received $700 million. Their application was 450 pages long with
an appendix of 1200 pages," he said. "The state of Vermont for
example ... does not have the resources to put together an
application like that for every federal education program."