November 19, 2006

NCLB prediction: 20% impurities

Take a gander at the NCLB reauthorization recommendations from the National Association of State Title I Directors, compiled early in October. Most of the recommendations are a standard opening gambit, but then there are recommendations 4-6:

  1. Districts may pay for reasonable administrative costs from the 20
    percent set aside to implement supplemental educational services
    (SES) and public school choice.
  2. SEAs receive additional federal funding to fulfill their
    administrative responsibilities for public school choice and
    supplemental educational services (SES).
  3. Provided the LEA is in compliance with parent notification
    requirements and there is a good faith effort to expend the funds,
    with SEA approval, districts are permitted to annually exceed the
    15 percent carryover by the amount of unspent Title I funds set
    aside for public school choice and supplemental educational
    services (SES).

Then look at the National School Board Association's NCLB Recommendation #8: provide school choice and tutoring only to the subgroups not meeting AYP.

Now what in the world is going on here?  From the education blogule, I thought that the big fights in NCLB are going to be about growth models, ELL testing, instructional-level testing for students with disabilities, etc. And they are, but not in the next two years. I'll stick to my (and others') predictions that NCLB will not be reauthorized until 2009 but will be extended until then, as long as there is a tacit agreement between Congress and the White House about not changing the statutory language on AYP. So I'm fairly sure that's what will happen, in terms of the apparently major stuff. I may not be 99% pure or sure, but I'm close, at least on the second adjective.

On the other hand... there has been considerable griping about the rigidity of the Needs Improvement intervention list, and even a (non-statutory?) waiver allowing a few places to reverse tutoring and choice. So the White House will probably accept an appropriations extension with more flexibility in the list.

Given that fact, and depending on the signals given out by the White House, school boards and the states might push for what looks like minor statutory changes but would dramatically change the consequences of NCLB:

  • There will be heavy insider negotiations about the 20% set-aside restrictions. (What? you ask.  Explained below...)
  • There will be heavy insider negotiations about targetting choice and tutoring, aiming directly at the group identified as not meeting AYP.

In both cases, the federal law creates huge logistical problems for school districts.  Consider this year's pupil-allocation letter from my state's Title I director to the local district Title I directors. It explains how the 20% set-aside rule works: School districts must set aside 20% of Title I funds (or an equivalent amount) to be used for various consequences, including "corrective action." But they don't know how they're supposed to use that money. 5% is supposed to go for tutoring (for students signed up for it), and 5% is supposed to go to transportation for public-choice plans. But the district cannot plan for that money until well after the rest of the budget planning process is over, because each district must wait for parents to exercise options. For districts whose public choice and tutoring provisions are underenrolled, that set-aside leaves a huge chunk of change sitting around, doing nothing. Title I directors are probably aghast at the waste mandated by federal processes. They could imagine plenty of ways to spend that money... but by the time they've waited for parents, often there's nothing they can do productively with the funds, but they can't carry over that money to the next year beyond a 15% limit. Of course, districts which have huge enrollment for choice or tutoring find that they are not paid nearly as much by the federal government as the programs cost. It's a horrible Catch 22.

My guess is that school officials will push for minor tinkering in statutory language to get rid of the 20% problem and to help districts whose first corrective programs (choice and tutoring) are oversubscribed. Will they be happy if NCLB is reuthorized just with those changes? Probably not. But they'll be happy NCLB isn't getting worse (yet), and if they can start a 2009 reauthorization having solved the 20% set-aside and oversubscription problems, many school officials will be relieved.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on November 19, 2006 11:49 PM |