According to Idaho’s top public education official, the Gem State would face no cuts in federal funding should it choose to end its participation in the nationwide Common Core academic standards agenda.
However, in states where policymakers have either abandoned or augmented their participation with the national standards agenda, the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) has used a federal law from last decade—the “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) Act—to threaten those states over the appropriation of millions of federal education dollars.
“We did not receive federal dollars from Washington when we adopted the Common Core standards,” said Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. In an exclusive interview with IdahoReporter.com in February of this year, Luna added that “we would not lose federal funding if we chose other standards.”
Yet in both California and Indiana, the USDOE has leveled threats in the face of those states altering their intended paths with Common Core. Last year when California considered the possibility of suspending student testing for a year (Common Core entails annual assessment testing), the USDOE reacted by threatening to withhold some $15 million in administrative funding from the state.
Tina Woo Jung, spokesperson for the California Department of Education, told IdahoReporter.com that the tension with the USDOE has now been resolved and that California never lost any federal monies.
The USDOE’s responses to both California and Indiana involved the threat of actually requiring the states to adhere to the NCLB, or face the loss of federal money. While California’s concerns seem to have dissipated for now, Indiana’s situation is much more uncertain.
Signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002, the NCLB began requiring individual states to define and achieve their own grade-level academic standards in order to receive federal education money. The law also expanded the federal role in K-12 public education in annual testing, report card standards and teacher certification criteria, among others.
Amid growing frustration with the law, earlier this decade the Obama administration began extending NCLB waivers to individual states, relieving them from some of the requirements of the law.
But a NCLB waiver is now at the epicenter of problems for Indiana: While in March of this year the current Legislature and governor determined that Indiana would opt out of the Common Core agenda, the state had previously agreed that it would participate in the nationwide standards initiative as a part of their negotiation for a NCLB waiver. Now that Indiana has abandoned Common Core, it finds itself at odds with terms to which it committed with the federal government.
“We brought this on ourselves,” explained Dr. Brad Oliver, a member of the Indiana state board of education. He told IdahoReporter.com that since January of 2013 Indiana has fallen out of compliance on nine different commitments it made to the federal government in exchange for its NCLB waiver, and while participation in Common Core is only one of them, the state’s choice to abandon the agenda is nonetheless a problem.
“We have to get back into compliance with the agreement we made or about $260 million a year is at stake in federal Title 1 education funds,” said Oliver. “It’s not that we would necessarily lose all that money, but we could lose the flexibility we currently have in how we spend that money. We have got to act quickly and carefully so we don’t end up with more problems with the federal government.”
Idaho officially received a waiver from NCLB compliance in October of 2012. According to Camille Wells, spokesperson for the Idaho Department of Education, the Gem State did not agree to join the Common Core agenda in exchange for receiving an NCLB waiver. She explained that by the time Idaho made application for a waiver from NCLB, the state had already adopted the nationwide Common Core standards, adding that “other states, such as Alaska and Virginia, have been granted waivers without adopting the Common Core state standards. Therefore, it is possible Idaho would have been granted a waiver without adopting these standards.”
Idaho nonetheless relies quite heavily on federal Title 1 education dollars. In fiscal year 2013 it received more than $52 million in Title 1 monies, and in fiscal year 2012 that figure was more than $57 million.
So if Idaho chose to detach itself from the Common Core agenda, would it face threats similar to those leveled against Indiana and California?
“My understanding from Superintendent Luna is that the Common Core academic standards fit the criteria that was necessary for us to get a NCLB waiver,” said Sen. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, a member of the Senate Education Committee. “If we did choose to leave Common Core, we would presumably have to negotiate with the USDOE to make sure that the standards we used to replace Common Core met the criteria of the NCLB waiver.”
“Based on what is happening in Indiana, I suspect Idaho would face a similar threat,” said Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, a member of the House Education Committee. “I think part of the question for Idaho, is how much longer we will allow our state to be blackmailed by the federal government. The situation in Indiana also demonstrates that Common Core is, in fact, a federal program, and not a ‘state-led initiative’ as some have claimed that it is.”