Indiana gets 1-year waiver of federal education law giving it a say in how to spend money

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INDIANAPOLIS — The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday granted a one-year extension of Indiana's waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind education law, ensuring the state keeps control of more than $200 million in federal funds, after it resolved concerns over how it monitored low-performing schools and evaluated teachers and principals.

The decision ensures Indiana will retain significant say in how millions of federal Title I dollars are spent.

Indiana was granted a waiver from the law in 2012. But Assistant U.S. Education Secretary Deborah Delisle told schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz in April that federal monitors had identified problems in the state's handling of the waiver during a review in August and September of 2013.

In many cases, the federal monitors said Indiana had failed to follow through on promises it made in its initial waiver plan.

Ritz, a Democrat who has clashed repeatedly with members of the State Board of Education over policy, said she hopes the approval of the extension validates the work her department is doing.

But she left Republican Gov. Mike Pence off a list of people she thanked. Pence's top education aide submitted a 28-page critique of the state's waiver in July, questioning the capabilities of Ritz's staff to perform work outlined in the waiver. The board members, and Pence's education staff, have argued that they were shut out of discussions about crafting the waiver.

Gordon Hendry, a Democratic board member appointed by Pence, said students and teachers could "breathe a sigh of relief" with Thursday's news. "But let's be clear: None of this had to happen, and dodging the worst-case scenario in this instance should lead to a stronger partnership with the U.S. Department of Education as we continue to improve Indiana K-12 policy."

The requirements for the waiver were crafted and approved under former schools Superintendent Tony Bennett, but the implementation has been left to Ritz, who defeated Bennett in the 2012 election.

Delisle initially granted conditional approval of Indiana's request for a waiver but ordered the state to address the issues raised in the letter or risk losing its waiver.

In a letter announcing the waiver extension Thursday, Delisle said the waiver had helped Indiana implement "important reforms" to improve student achievement and that extending it was in the public's interest.

The U.S. education department lauded Indiana for developing tutorial videos to help teachers learn to write and implement objectives to measure student growth. It also cited work to ensure that school improvement efforts are aligned with federal school turnaround principles.

No Child Left Behind was a hallmark of President George W. Bush's administration and aimed to get all children up to par in math and reading by 2014. But state education leaders increasingly complained that the goal wasn't realistic.

The states excused from following the law were exempt from the 2014 deadline but had to submit plans showing how they would prepare children for college and careers, set new targets for improving achievement among all students, reward the best-performing schools and focus help on the ones doing the worst.

They also were given the freedom to use science, social studies and other subjects to measure student progress.

Indiana's waiver will continue through the 2014-2015 school year.

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