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Relief from No Child Left Behind too expensive, state officials say

November 9, 2011 |  5:18 pm

Photo: State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles TimesIt would cost cash-strapped California at least $2 billion to meet the requirements for relief from the federal No Child Left Behind law, state officials reported Wednesday to the California Board of Education.

Although no decision was made, the clear implication was that California should spurn an opportunity to seek a waiver from federal rules that sanction schools for low test scores. The No Child Left Behind rules are widely unpopular here and elsewhere in the country.

“It seems like this is very costly. The deadline very tight if not impossible,” said state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, summarizing feedback he said he received from educators around the state as well as from his own staff. “The best solution to a bad law is to replace it with a good law.”

Qualifying for a waiver would commit the state to using standardized test scores or equivalent data as part of the evaluations for teachers and principals. There also are other requirements from the federal government, including some that the state already has agreed to.

Torlakson’s conclusions, delivered at a state school board meeting in Sacramento, were supported by the state’s two major teachers unions and the California PTA. But others took issue with those views.

A state association representing administrators said a waiver might be feasible as well as preferable to the status quo. Without a waiver, an increasing number of schools, even improving ones, will be labeled as failures because of steeply rising improvement targets.

Los Angeles Unified belongs to a consortium of districts that endorsed seeking a waiver.

"LAUSD is moving forward [on] many of the principles outlined,” said district representative Tommy Chang.

A spokesman for the consortium of school districts flatly contradicted the state analysis, saying the waiver would save money.

U.S. Department of Education officials have encouraged California to apply. About 40 states have signaled that they intend to pursue a waiver.

“We’re working with any state that is indicating interest to make sure that this is an achievable proposition,” said deputy press secretary Daren Briscoe. “We have an interest in helping California and other states succeed in applying and helping them to implement some of these reforms.”

Separately, a federal official, who asked not to be named, provided a list of possible funding sources that he said would offset state costs.

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-- Howard Blume

Photo: State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson

Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

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