Montana Cites Rural Nature in Rationale for Declining NCLB Waivers

Last Updated: December 30, 2011

This article appeared in the December 2011 Rural Policy Matters.

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Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau announced on December 7, 2011, that the state would not apply for a waiver to several provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law (NCLB). Among the reasons Juneau gave were the costs to the state of implementing waiver requirements, the possibility that Congress could overturn NCLB and/or the waiver provisions, other reform efforts already underway in Montana, and the rural character of the state. “We cannot have yet another education reform effort from Washington that doesn’t take into account the rural nature of our state and provide the flexibility states need to deliver a quality, public education,” Juneau told reporters.

The Obama administration announced in September that states could apply for waivers of ten NCLB requirements in exchange for meeting four other principles identified as “ESEA Flexibility.”

The ten NCLB provisions eligible for waiver include Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements and sanctions for schools and districts; instead AYP targets would be replaced by Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs). In addition, rural districts currently eligible for rural “flexibility” would be able to use federal funds for any authorized purposes regardless of AYP status; and states and districts would have more flexibility in the allocation of certain federal funds. And, districts would no longer be required to meet Highly Qualified Teacher targets, although states would not be exempt from the NCLB requirement to ensure that poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers.

In order to receive a waiver, however, states must do the following: adopt “college- and career-ready standards” and student assessments aligned to those standards; create a differentiated system for recognizing student growth and school progress in schools and districts; implement teacher and principal evaluations that include at least three performance levels and are based in significant part on “student growth” (improvement in test scores); and reduce “duplication and unnecessary burden” in reporting requirements.

Juneau reached the decision to reject the NCLB waiver after meeting with a number of Montana education organizations. Those organizations co-signed the letter to the U.S. Department of Education declining the waiver. They include the Montana Small Schools Alliance, the Montana Rural Education Association, and the Montana Indian Education Association as well as the Montana School Boards Association, Montana Education Association and Montana Federation of Teachers, School Administrators of Montana, and the Montana Board of Public Education.

In rejecting the waiver, the state is required to meet the original NCLB mandate that 100% of students score at least “proficient” on state tests in English/Language Arts and math by 2014.

Eleven states submitted first-round waiver applications in November. Twenty-eight states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico have indicated they will request waivers at the next deadline in February.

Eleven states have not indicated they will apply for NCLB waivers. They include Alabama, Alaska, California, Delaware, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming in addition to Montana.

Read more:

Local news coverage:

Montana’s letter to the U.S. Department of Education:

U.S. Department of Education Flexibility website:

Read more from the December 2011 Rural Policy Matters.