What does the NCLB waiver vote mean?

question-mark-96288_640The Utah State Board of Education (USBE) votes whether to renew the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver on Friday August 8. While the ostensible result of the vote will be to renew or not renew the waiver, there will be efforts by all interested parties to label what the vote means.

  • Common Core: if the USBE decides not to renew the waiver, Common Core standards foes will see it as a victory and a step towards extracting Common Core standards from our education system. Utah would still need to replace the Common Core standards with something else, but there would no longer be a requirement from the waiver to use standards similar to those of other states.
  • Federalism: renew or not, some will see it as a vote for or against federalism. Should the federal government have the power to review Utah public education standards? Or does keeping the waiver allow Utah flexibility? Both sides will spin this to their narrative.
  • In the Utah Legislature we trust…or not. Typically, and unfortunately, Utah education establishment folks don’t seem to get along with Utah legislative leaders. While there are signs recently that this is changing, there remains the fact that every year public education asks for more money per pupil than the Utah legislature gives. And that’s not a statement of right or wrong or why: just fact. We have a limited amount of money, and the Legislature has to divvy it up. If the waiver isn’t renewed, it could leave a $26.5M hole, give or take, depending on who you talk to, in public ed’s budget. Will the Utah legislature step forward and fill it? Or will the legislature balk?
  • Board Dysfunction: One need not go far to find people who think the Utah State Board of Education is dysfunctional and out of touch, not to mention without any control of public education or the Utah State Office of Education, which is supposed to work for the Board. Last session, the Board couldn’t even get its lobbying priorities passed, while the Utah State Superintendents Association and the Utah State Board Members Association (which, strangely, share the same offices, website, and lobbyist) lobbied for a different set of priorities contrasting the Boards. The vote will be seen by opponents of the waiver as a sign that the Board is exerting itself over the heads of its staff and the education establishment lobby or, alternately, rolling to it.
  • Board Makeup: If the list of candidates for open slots on the USBE wasn’t record-breaking, it surely was the longest list in recent memory. Why? Any number of reasons would suffice: Common Core, Tea Party efforts to respond to federalism concerns, renewed interest in education, and because there weren’t enough open Utah legislature seats…well, except that last one. How the Board votes is going to be seen as a reflection of the ideological make-up of the Board, too.

How ever the vote goes, I suspect it will be close, probably within one or two votes.

But what will the vote mean? I think that depends on what you want the vote to be.


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