No Waiver Left Behind

, Spencer Irvine, Leave a comment

When U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan granted blanket waivers to states and localities exempting them from the standards of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, conservatives blasted him for his edict. The waivers enable the states and localities to collect the federal funds NCLB proffers without meeting the requirements that the law’s proponents told us they would be forced to meet.


As it happens, Duncan has been granting these waivers ever since taking office. Moreover, the Bush Administration was granting quite a few of them even while crediting NCLB with raising education standards.


Yet and still, every education bill or law that has been passed by Congress in the past half century includes underlying quality control clauses along with opt-out provisions or waivers. Finally, the granting of waivers seems to favor states that have voted for the current administration in the last election, at least for the past decade.

According to the Department of Education website, the waivers that bypass NCLB have existed as early as 2007 under then-President George W. Bush. Each waiver lasts approximately a year from the time of its approval, and more often than not, states continue to apply for the same waiver and exemption year after year. Three states— Alaska, Ohio, and Arizona—have applied and have been granted waivers in consecutive years in 2 out of the 4 years that this has been tracked. The initial list of one portion of NCLB, regarding Indian reservation schools, waived 91 school districts in 17 states from having to comply with those regulations. The only reasonable exception to note is that the most consistent granting of waivers was to the states ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and Rita.

This writer was astonished that waivers have become an integral part of education bills over the past decade, and states almost beg to apply for them. In several instances, states applied twice to one provision of NCLB because it had to apply for the provision’s two accompanying clauses. In 2007, the Department of Education gave waivers to Boston Public Schools (MA) and Chicago Public Schools (IL) for the two components of an NCLB provision regarding eligibility for another government program. The flawed waiver system of education policy demonstrates more government waste of taxpayers’ dollars, that pay for the necessary paperwork, postage, labor hours, and time spent on applying and granting waivers.

Intriguingly, NCLB waivers tended to go to states that voted for the current administration, though not exclusively. In 2007 alone, a significant amount of the “red states” that voted for George W. Bush were granted NCLB waivers. For example, 23 of the 31 states that voted for President Bush and applied for waivers were given the exemptions. In 2009, 27 of the 28 states that voted for President Obama were granted waivers. In that same year alone, a total of 282 waivers were granted out of the total of 400 that have been approved since 2007.

This trend seems to hold for the new administration’s pet education reform program as well. Of the top tier Race to the Top winners, 3 (California, Florida, New York) voted for Obama while only 1 (Texas) voted for John McCain.  It only shows the corruption that is inherent in government, no matter what safeguards are put in place. The policy on granting waivers should be investigated as this worrisome trend could get worse as the U.S. moves further down the road with NCLB and Race to the Top.


Election sources:

CNN 2004 Election Results:

New York Times 2008 Election Results:

Spencer Irvine is a research assistant at Accuracy in Academia.


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