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Alexander, Kline Call on GAO to Study Dept of Ed ESEA Waiver Policies

Press release from the Office of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander; August 12, 2014: 

Washington, D.C., Aug. 12 – Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the senior Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) today requested a study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver policies.

In a letter to GAO, they wrote, “In 2011, the department began issuing waivers to states regarding specific requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, and to date, 42 states and the District of Columbia have received ESEA waivers. In order to receive waivers, these states were required to comply with a new set of requirements, not authorized by Congress, related to standards and assessments, school accountability, and teacher and principal evaluation systems.”

The lawmakers noted the supporting documentation required to obtain waivers in their home states, which ranged from more than 700 to more than 1,000 pages. “However, Congress has little information about how the department utilizes the data required of these and other states to grant, deny, renew, or revoke a state waiver,” they wrote. “Additionally, Congress has little insight into how states are impacted by the time and cost associated with applying for and implementing these waiver requirements.”

“Finally, the department has recently altered various requirements for certain states regarding implementation timelines for teacher and principal evaluation systems. At the same time, other states have had their waivers put on ‘high risk’ status, and Washington recently had its waiver revoked, over issues related to teacher and principal evaluation systems. The department has provided no justifications for these seemingly contradictory decisions.”

The full text of the letter is below:

August 12, 2014

The Honorable Gene Dodaro
Comptroller General
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20548

Dear Mr. Dodaro:

We are writing to request a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of the U.S. Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act(ESEA) waiver policies. In 2011, the department began issuing waivers to states regarding specific requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, and to date, 42 states and the District of Columbia have received ESEA waivers. In order to receive waivers, these states were required to comply with a new set of requirements, not authorized by Congress, related to standards and assessments, school accountability, and teacher and principal evaluation systems.

For Tennessee, the supporting documentation required for its waiver request resulted in a binder that was more than one thousand pages thick. Minnesota’s approved application is more than 700 pages long. However, Congress has little information about how the department utilizes the data required of these and other states to grant, deny, renew, or revoke a state waiver. Additionally, Congress has little insight into how states are impacted by the time and cost associated with applying for and implementing these waiver requirements.

Finally, the department has recently altered various requirements for certain states regarding implementation timelines for teacher and principal evaluation systems. At the same time, other states have had their waivers put on “high risk” status, and Washington recently had its waiver revoked, over issues related to teacher and principal evaluation systems. The department has provided no justifications for these seemingly contradictory decisions.

Accordingly, key questions we would like GAO to explore include:

1. What processes and criteria does the Department of Education use to approve, deny, renew, and revoke states’ ESEA waiver applications? How does the department use the data it requires states to provide when applying for and renewing waivers?

2. What changes have states made in order to meet the department’s conditions for the approval and renewal of a waiver?

3. What issues have selected states, including states that have not applied for a waiver, had waiver applications rejected, and had approved waivers revoked, faced in deciding whether to apply for and implement an ESEA waiver, such as time and resources used to produce waiver and waiver renewal applications and the possible need for legislative changes?

4. To what extent are states able to implement accountability and evaluation systems consistent with existing state laws and policies? What barriers exist for states and districts in adapting accountability and evaluation systems to their unique needs?

Sincerely,

Lamar Alexander                                             John Kline

Ranking Member                                              Chairman

U.S. Senate Committee on Health,            U.S. House Committee on

Education, Labor and Pensions                 Education and the Workforce

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News Transparency and Elections

Pawlenty: GOP Stands to Gain from Voters’ Deficit Disdain

Presidential politics for 2012 are already being discussed, and Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker came right out and linked Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to that race at Friday’s Tennessee Republican Party Statesmen’s Dinner.

Pawlenty was the featured speaker at the state party’s big event of the year in Nashville, and Pawlenty delivered an address to about 1,500 people with a message that echoed the same conservative rhetoric sweeping Tennessee.

Alexander introduced Pawlenty as “Minnesota’s Ronald Reagan,” a conservative governor in a liberal state.

“He’s strong on education and cutting spending,” Alexander said. “We’re delighted to have him here.”

Corker told the crowd at the Nashville Convention Center, “My sense is he may think about running for president. Let’s make sure somebody like him or some other outstanding Republican candidate becomes president and changes the direction of this country.”

Pawlenty told the audience that if they doubted what it meant to be a conservative governor of Minnesota, he reminded them that it was the “land of Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Paul Wellstone, Jesse Ventura and current Sen. Al Franken.

“You think Massachusetts is liberal? They voted for Reagan twice. Minnesota never did. In one election, 49 states voted for Reagan, and guess which one didn’t?”

His reference was to 1984 when Mondale was the Democratic nominee and lost to Reagan in a landslide, with Mondale carrying only his home state.

Pawlenty spoke of “state-sponsored companies too big to fail, a federal government too big to succeed, federal debt too big to pay off and leaders in the Democratic Party around this nation too small to do anything about it.”

Pawlenty said American common sense has been “steamrolled” by a coalition of big government and certain businesses that scratch each others’ backs.

“We see a country under siege from its own government. Have you had enough?” he asked. “We need to rise up and fight back.”

Pawlenty said the government is operating like a credit card and played on the familiar MasterCard commercial to make his point.

“Stimulus bill $800 billion. Misguided Wall Street bailout $700 billion. Ridiculous health care plan $2.6 trillion. Cap and trade $2,000-plus per family. Republicans getting elected this November priceless,” he said.

Pawlenty told the crowd not to shy away from religious convictions.

“It’s OK. In fact, it’s appropriate to stop and thank and acknowledge God,” he said. “People say it’s politically incorrect, blah blah blah. Hogwash. It’s in the founding documents of this nation. It’s what George Washington believed. It’s what Abraham Lincoln believed.

“We shouldn’t turn away from him now.”

He told a story the audience enjoyed.

“A high-ranking leader, a female leader, came into my office,” he said. “She came in and said her enterprise was in huge trouble. She said the balance sheet was a mess. The employees are overpaid and underperforming. ‘We are up to our ears in debt, nobody is buying what we’re selling,’ she said. She said there are going to be layoffs, and even she could be laid off.

“And I said, ‘But Speaker Pelosi, we don’t do bailouts, but if there’s any consolation, there are going to be big changes come this November.'”

Pawlenty met briefly with members of the media prior to the event, along with Alexander and Corker. He said Tennessee had “a lot of natural beauty” and “wonderful economic potential.”

He said he would very much like to see a Republican governor elected in Tennessee. Pawlenty said he is traveling the country but focused for now on elections in 2010. He said he would make a decision on 2012 early next year.