May 29, 2012

Plan will grant districts and schools flexibility over $375 million.

BATON ROUGE, La. - Louisiana’s plan to ensure all students are on track to attain a college degree or a professional career,Louisiana Believes, is based on the belief that all students can achieve academic success and that those closest to students - parents and educators, rather than bureaucrats - should be empowered to make decisions to support the success of their students.  Today, a key component of the state’s plan, Louisiana’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver application, won approval from the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE).

Louisiana was one of eight states to get the go ahead today in Round Two of the waiver request.  The federal waivers allow districts and schools to exercise flexibility from federal ESEA regulations, in exchange for instituting rigorous accountability systems.

In recent months, Louisiana parents have gained greater power to choose, by virtue of Act 2.  The new law expands theLouisiana Student Scholarships for Excellence Program statewide, establishes alternative routes for charter organizations to secure authorizations, and gives Louisiana’s students and families the option of enrolling in state-funded courses via approved course providers.

Similarly, the state has ended the practice of prescribing daily teaching activities and textbook choices for schools.  And, by virtue of Act 1, principals and superintendents now have legal empowerment to make choices about who is best to serve in their classrooms.  The new statute allows districts and schools to use measures of teacher effectiveness to guide personnel policies and decisions and calls for teachers to be compensated based on experience, license area, and effectiveness, without decreasing any teacher’s salary or affecting retirement.  The statute further preserves tenure for current teachers, except the small number who earn an "Ineffective" rating.  The approved waiver application will grant superintendents and principals similar levels of autonomy over the use of $375 million in federal funding - dollars historically tied up in government mandates and regulations.

"Louisiana’s approved waiver sets new standards for student performance and holds adults accountable for high levels of achievement," State Superintendent of Education John White said. "At the same time, our approved waiver empowers districts and schools by giving their leaders flexibility to choose how to spend their dollars and relieving them from burdensome regulations that too often take attention away from the classroom."

Specifically, the accountability system approved today is based on the following principles:

  • Aligns with Common Core levels of rigor:
    • K-8 schools will no longer earn points for students who score below proficient on state tests (e.g., Basic on LEAP/iLEAP). The high school system further places value on the ACT, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate examinations, which align to Common Core rigor.
  • Rewards the gains schools have already achieved:
    • The model proposed is not intended to change the letter grades schools would have achieved at their current level of performance. By awarding points for specific measures based on what the state anticipates schools will score, the model holds school letter grades nearly constant, all the while raising the bar for future performance.
  • Focuses schools on students below grade level:
    • A new value-added system will reward schools for effectively advancing the progress of students who are below grade level. (Currently, 225,000 students are below grade level in Louisiana.)

Furthermore, the waiver application approved today affords districts and schools the following funding flexibilities:

  • Provides spending flexibility for Title I funds by:
    • Removing the requirement to spend 20% of Title I on Supplemental Education Services (SES);
    • Removing the requirement to spend 10% of Title I funds on professional development;
    • Removing the transfer limitation so that 100% of funds from ESEA-authorized programs may be transferred to Title I; and
    • Allowing Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to redirect Title I dollars to concentrate on funding activities that will positively impact student performance.
  • Allows Title I schools below the 40% poverty threshold to operate school-wide programs, thereby allowing additional schools the flexibility to enhance the entire educational program at a Title I school;
  • Allows priority high schools (high schools transferred to the jurisdiction of the Recovery School District) with graduation rates below 60% to be served with Title I funds regardless of rank order;
  • Lifts spending restrictions on Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP) funds, thereby allowing LEAs more flexibility in utilizing REAP dollars regardless of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) status; and

  • Permits 21st Century Community Learning Centers to provide expanded learning time during the school day, rather than just before or after school hours.

In addition to the significant funding flexibilities, the ESEA Waiver allows for the removal of federally-created bureaucratic burdens on district and school leaders. Effective immediately, districts will no longer need to submit burdensome federal reports, such as 1003(a) School Improvement Plans or Highly Qualified Teacher (HQT) Target Improvement Plans.

Changes to align current policies to the waiver application approved by the USDOE will be considered by the BESE beginning in June. In the meantime, today’s announcement was welcomed by state and local education leaders.

"Through this waiver process and approval, we have the opportunity to tailor our accountability system to better meet the needs of our children, especially our most challenged students," BESE President Penny Dastugue said. "As we seek to prepare each and every one of our students for academic and life-long success, we’re eager to align our accountability policies to the student-centered strategies outlined in Louisiana’s approved waiver application."

"This waiver will allow us to align our resources with our students’ needs by entrusting educators with authority to make important fiscal decisions," said Mike Faulk, President of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.  "The funding flexibility being afforded to school leaders is not merely a gesture of empowerment - but will provide meaningful support to students, schools and districts by eliminating burdensome funding restrictions."

"Through this waiver, Louisiana’s new state-developed accountability system will be aligned to college and career readiness standards, allowing educators to focus on a clearly defined set of expectations. At the same time, in exchange for meeting a higher bar, district and school leaders will get to decide how to spend more of their dollars," Caroline Roemer-Shirley, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, said. "Most importantly, our students will benefit from the changes."

"I want to thank Secretary Duncan and his team for working with us throughout this process," White concluded. "Also, I would like to express my gratitude to the many individuals and groups across Louisiana who helped us develop and revise our waiver application. The result is an agreement that will allow Louisiana to move forward with a plan to improve our schools and achieve better outcomes for our children."

To access Louisiana’s ESEA wavier application, please click here. For more information, please click here.

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  • The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was enacted in 1965.  The federal law funds primary and secondary education, while explicitly forbidding the establishment of a national curriculum.  It also emphasizes equal access to education and establishes high standards and accountability. In addition, the bill aims to shorten the achievement gaps between students by providing each child with fair and equal opportunities to achieve an exceptional education. As mandated in the act, the funds are authorized for professional development, instructional materials, for resources to support educational programs, and for parental involvement promotion. The act was originally authorized through 1970; however, the government has reauthorized the act every five years since its enactment. The current reauthorization of ESEA is the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001.
  • No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) includes Title I, the government’s flagship aid program for disadvantaged students.  NCLB supports standards-based education reform based on the premise that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals leads to academic gains for individual students. The Act requires states to develop and administer tests to all students at select grade levels in order to receive federal funding. However, the Act does not set national achievement standards; standards are set by each state. NCLB expanded the federal role in public education through annual testing, annual academic progress, report cards, teacher qualifications, and funding restrictions/mandates.
  • Under NCLB, the state, as well as each district and school, must show Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in student outcomes in English Language Arts and Math for nine subgroups of students, including African-American/Black, American Indian/Native Alaskan, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, White, students with disabilities, limited English proficiency, and economically disadvantaged (students eligible for free or reduced price lunch).  Schools that fail to make AYP face consequences and may be required to offer school choice to students.
  • When Louisiana implemented its state accountability system in 1999, the percentage of students at grade level was 45 percent, compared to 68 percent in 2012.
  • Louisiana’s waiver application was developed in collaboration with dozens of stakeholder groups.  The state’s application includes letters of support from key groups, including the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana (A+PEL), higher education institutions, business groups, and legislators.  In addition, more than 700 individuals responded to an online survey posted on the LDOE website.
Eleven states applied to the USDOE in the first round of waiver requests. Louisiana, along with 26 other states and the District of Columbia, submitted waiver applications in the second round.  The USDOE is accepting a third round of waiver applications this summer.