Ed-Flex Applicants Stymied By Title 1 Strings
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
Anyone wondering why more states haven't applied for the much ballyhooed Ed-Flex waivers need not look any further than the 1994 Elementary and Secondary Education Act's requirements for $8 billion in Title 1 funding.
Since last April when the Education Flexibility Act (Ed-Flex) was signed, states and school districts have been able to apply for waivers for certain regulations attached to federal programs to help them tailor programs to local needs and increase student performance. All 50 governors supported the Republican initiative, but as of this month only five states: Delaware, North Carolina, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin had joined the original 12 pilot program states.
The main reason additional states haven't applied for Ed-Flex is that they are too busy gearing up to meet the requirements for Title 1, according to Julie Manuel at the National Governors Association (NGA).
Title 1 federal aid amounts to an annual $8 billion for 11 million children who attend 45,000 schools in impoverished areas. Complying with the Title 1 program is a prerequisite for applying for Ed-Flex.
"It is a huge process for states to go through. States have decided to do the first piece (meet ESEA requirements for Title 1) and then go on to Ed Flex," Manuel says. She speculates that the five states that already applied decided to do the bulk of the work together.
In 1994, when Congress authorized ESEA, it overhauled Title 1. Lawmakers were concerned that students getting Title 1 funds weren't being held to the same high standards as other students. So they required the states to develop and implement standards aligned with assessments. States also must set up a system for identifying struggling schools. All this had to be done by the 2000-2001 school year.
"This is a much bigger issue than applying for Ed-Flex," Manuel said. The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has begun checking states for compliance but it will most likely last the entire year, she said. The DOE is working with states to help them get over any obstacles so they can meet compliance rules. Once this happens, Manuel expects more states to apply for Ed-Flex.
But Ed-Flex may not be necessary. From the start of the pilot program in 1994 to 1997, there were 456 requests for waivers. DOE approved 46 percent of the requests, disapproved nine percent, but nearly 30 percent were unnecessary because applicants had enough flexibility under current law to do what they were hoping to do with the money.
Patricia Gore, Director of the Goals 2000 office at DOE said "there is a lot more flexibility in the law than state and local people recognize. There certainly are cases where flexibility exists within current law and a waiver is not necessary, that being said, clearly there are other instances where a waiver is needed." Gore's office is responsible for approving waivers under Ed-Flex.