In April, Washington State became the first (and so far only) state to lose its federal waiver from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Thanks to the mind-numbing cowardice of Democrats in the State Legislature that allowed this to happen, our state has lost control of nearly $40 million in federal grants allocated to low-income children. Additionally, parents across our state are set to receive letters that the school their children attend is failing before the start of the new school year.
Washington State lost this waiver because it did not meet a simple requirement: use student test scores as a factor to evaluate teachers’ performance. The simple requirement was not met because the Washington Education Association (WEA) — the state’s largest teachers’ union and huge campaign funder for Democrat legislators — decided it did not want any accountability for its members that it could not undo through collective bargaining, and so lobbied against it.
Enough members of the Senate Democrat Caucus and the Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC) had agreed on a simple, clean bill to meet the simple requirement earlier this year, ensuring test scores were a factor in teacher evaluations. However, once the WEA decided to make this a special interest litmus test, Senate Democrats ran away from their agreement. Fearing the WEA would oppose him for re-election, Democrat Senator Steve Hobbs voted against the very bill he co-sponsored. Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, who the WEA helped retire a campaign debt to herself in 2013 went as far as to introduce and adamantly advocate for the evaluation bill — only to change her mind and vote against her own bill.
Since the then, school districts have been scrambling to deal with the consequences—the loss of funding control and the letters of failure they must send to parents. Last month, the Seattle school district asked the U.S. Department of Education to “reinstate the waiver for its own schools.” The district argues that it has a “unique teacher evaluation system” that meets federal requirements. A response is expected by the end of August.
Seemingly eager to take the blame off of unions, Bill Keim, Executive Director of the Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA), is now calling for Washington State to challenge the waiver loss in federal court in order to get it back. The argument is that “U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan does not have the authority to set conditions for waivers, such as the teacher-evaluation requirement, that are beyond the scope of the federal education law.”
Here’s a less expensive and better idea: Ask Democrats to stop buckling under the pressure of the WEA and implement a teachers’ evaluation system that is working in other states. Washington can have its waiver back once it changes the “teacher-evaluation system to include student achievement on statewide academic tests as a factor in judging teachers.”