Cites Glaring Omissions, Lack of Detail and Unanswered Questions
In comments filed with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Education Law Center (ELC) has requested that the US Department of Education (USDOE) defer a decision on the New Jersey Department of Education’s (NJDOE) application for a waiver from the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) until numerous concerns raised by ELC are properly addressed by NJDOE.
The NJDOE filed the waiver application on November 14 in response to a “first round” invitation from USDOE to states seeking relief from certain school and district accountability provisions under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The USDOE will entertain a second round of waiver applications from states in February 2012.
In its comments, ELC requests deferral of the waiver decision until the February review cycle to allow for NJDOE to address glaring omissions, a lack of detail, and unanswered questions on critical elements of the application. The specific concerns raised by ELC include:
? The NJDOE never released the full waiver application for public review and comment prior to its submission to USDOE. Instead, on November 3, the NJDOE released a “draft outline” to the public which failed to contain many crucial details on its waiver proposals. The window for public comment on the incomplete “draft application” was just five days, including a weekend and a state holiday. As a result, education stakeholders and the public were not afforded a meaningful opportunity to review and comment on the detailed and complex proposals included in the final application.
? The NJDOE apparently failed to include in its final application the full record of public comments submitted by civil rights organizations and other groups on the “draft outline,” including comments filed by ELC on November 3.
? The final application failed to address a number of crucial details on key proposals, such as teacher and principal evaluations, equitable distribution of experienced teachers, new academic standards, and needs of students with disabilities and English language learners.
? The NJDOE’s proposal appears to allow for the allocation of federal Title 1 funds to “reward schools” that serve very few low-income students.
? The failure to include any estimate of the cost of implementing the waiver proposals, if approved, to local districts and schools, particularly given the recurring revenue shortfalls in the NJ state budget.
? The inclusion of numerous proposals that are currently not authorized by state law – such as the proposals for a “single accountability system,” a “Commissioner’s district,” and “closing” low performing schools – along with a proposal for vouchers to private and religious schools that is clearly outside the scope of the ESEA waiver.
“The changes proposed in this application will have a huge impact on every student parent, teacher, school and district across the state,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “It is simply unacceptable for NJDOE to submit the application without a real and meaningful opportunity for public comment, to omit crucial details in the application, and to leave so many key questions unanswered.”
“We’re asking for Secretary Duncan to defer the application to the next cycle and direct the NJDOE to address these numerous and substantial concerns,” Sciarra added.
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