Category Archives: race to the top/nclb waiver

Pointing Fingers on NCLB [updated]

Update: The Iowa Budget Report 2014-2015 has a FY2013 current year budget estimate for ESEA Title I funds of $90,001,401.  (See page 296)

The Iowa City Press-Citizen’s Christmas Day staff editorial ran under the headline “Failure to reform means no NCLB waiver for state“.

It’s not often that Iowa’s Republican governor and Iowa’s Democratic junior U.S. senator agree on a topic. But when it came to affixing blame for why Iowa was denied a waiver from federal No Children Left Behind standards, both Gov. Terry Branstad and Sen. Tom Harkin pointed in the same direction: toward the Iowa Legislature.

First, it seems to me that it is ridiculous for state legislators to be blamed for the foreseeable consequences of a near universally-despised federal law.  Senators Grassley and Harkin, who actually voted to pass NCLB, might be more deserving of blame.

Second, just because NCLB is bad doesn’t mean we should do just anything to avoid the consequences; sometimes the cure really is worse than the disease.

Iowa’s NCLB waiver application, it’s failure to win federal approval, it’s effect on SINA transfers, and the difficulty of rejecting federal money have been previously addressed on this blog.

What hasn’t been previously addressed is just how much federal money is involved.

As far as I can tell, the NCLB requirements are tied entirely to the receipt of Title I funds.  By my calculations, Iowa schools received approximately eighty-five million dollars under Title I for the 2012-13 school year.  (See the 2012-2013 Title I Allocations report available here.  Note to DE: why not provide a sum total at the end of the report?  Note to readers: if you have better numbers/information, please leave a comment.)

To put that $85,000,000 in perspective, it amounts to:

  • 1.3% to 1.7% of Iowa’s annual education spending*
  • Less than 2% allowable growth
  • Less than half of the $177.5 million requested for Branstad’s education reform package centered largely on establishing new teacher career pathways

Just something to keep in mind when people are clamoring for the legislature to hurry up and adopt anything necessary to earn a waiver from NCLB.

*The percentage depends on whether you use the numbers from the 2011 Annual Condition of Education Report or the 2010-2011 Certified Financial Report (CAR), links to both of which may be found in this post on federal education spending.  Probably someone should write a post about the mysteries of education spending numbers.


Federal Education Spending

At A Blog About School, Chris asks:

On the other hand, would it really be so hard for a state to pass up federal education funding and the (often expensive) mandates that go with it? As Roberts writes, “In the typical case we look to the States to defend their prerogatives by adopting ‘the simple expedient of not yielding’ to federal blandishments when they do not want to embrace the federal policies as their own. . . . The States are separate and independent sovereigns. Sometimes they have to act like it.” When it comes to No Child Left Behind, I wish they would act like it.

Using data from 2010-2011 Certified Financial Report (CAR) available here and data from the 2011 Annual Condition of Education Report available here:

  • 473,493 – certified enrollment (includes 4,804 students categorized as “other”)
  • $5,083,072,157 – general fund expenditures
  • $10,735 – general fund expenditures per student [COE reports $8,603 (or $9,455 from all funds)?]
  • $6,736,487,614 – local/intermediate/state/federal revenue
  • $14,227 – local/intermediate/state/federal revenue per student
  • $7,779,499,880 – total revenue (includes bonding and other sources)
  • $16,430 – total revenue per student
  • $640,301,946 – federal revenue (includes temporary ARRA funding)
  • $1,352 – federal revenue per student (includes temporary ARRA funding)
  • Federal revenue as percent of local/intermediate/state/federal revenue: 9.5%
  • Federal revenue as percent of total revenue: 8.2%

In short, for chipping in a dime or less, the feds tell us how to spend the whole dollar.  [Sometimes the feds don’t even have to chip in the money to get the states to do what they want.]

Note that we have no accounting for the compliance costs of accepting the federal revenue.  That is, it seems likely that if Iowa rejected the federal funds, we might save some of the money forgone by ending compliance activities and federally mandated programs that we don’t want to continue.  The rest of the money could be made up with some combination of short term spending freezes and slightly higher state or local taxes.

So why won’t we see Iowa rejecting federal money?  Here’s a few thoughts:

It’s easy to run the ad “incumbent cut education spending!”  It’s harder for the incumbent to explain the trade offs (preserving local/state control, less spending on compliance/unfunded mandates), especially when people may see federal money as “free” or as a return of Iowans’ federal taxes or the strings-attached as good ones.

Federal money pays for school lunch programs.  Even if we make up that money with state money, it’s easy to run the ad “incumbent wants poor children to go hungry at school!”

Austerity measures and higher taxes are unpopular, possibly even less popular than NCLB.

NCLB Waiver Not Approved At This Time

Iowa’s NCLB waiver application is not being approved at this time because the DE has no clear authority to change teacher and principal evaluation and support systems.

See the Branstad’s and Reynold’s comments here.

See coverage and related documents at The Sioux City Journal here or The Gazette here.

It seems that the Senate Democrats frustrated the investment of over 3500 hours of DE staff time (1.75 years of full-time work!).  However, the news coverage doesn’t address the question of whether the DE intends to forge ahead with other pieces of the ESEA Flexibility Request.  From the DE letter to the USED:

Over the past few weeks, we have worked through many of the concerns the U.S. Department of Education (USED) has pertaining to Principle 1 [College- and Career-Ready Expectations for All Students] and Principle 2 [State-Developed Differentiated Recognition, Accountability, and Support].  These conversations may have resulted in a plan for one of the best accountability systems in the nation and one that will improve outcomes for all students.

So, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens with the plans to adopt the Smarter Balanced Assessments and a new rating system for schools.

ADDED:  Senator Herman Quirmbach (D-Story) responds:

“The one thing that the governor requested but that SF 2284 did not do was to give Education Director Glass the unilateral power to adopt the educator evaluation system without legislative approval.  Both houses of the Legislature and both parties agreed that that was too much power to vest in an unelected bureaucrat.

SINA Transfers

I received a great question today: what is the effect of the NCLB waiver (if granted) on SINA transfers?  I didn’t know the answer, but as far as I can tell SINA transfers will end in Iowa if Iowa’s NCLB waiver application is granted, based on the following:

From the ESEA Flexibility document attached to Arne Duncan’s September letter to Chief State School Officers:

Flexibility in Implementation of School Improvement Requirements:  [If a waiver is granted] An LEA would no longer be required to comply with the requirements in ESEA section 1116(b) to identify for improvement, corrective action, or restructuring, as appropriate, its Title I schools that fail, for two consecutive years or more, to make AYP, and neither the LEA nor its schools would be required to take currently required improvement actions; however, an SEA may still require or permit an LEA to take such actions.  An LEA would also be exempt from all administrative and reporting requirements related to school improvement under current law.

ESEA section 1116(b) contains the requirement that students be offered SINA transfers.  If Iowa’s waiver is granted, SINA transfers would no longer be required.

Iowa’s NCLB waiver application proposes replacing the SINA designation with a classification system ranking schools from Distinguished to Unacceptable.

Among other things, the highest performing schools will get a special logo, to use on their website and letterhead, and a Governor’s award.

Among other things, the lowest performing schools will be required to notify parents of school status and share the interventions implemented through School Continuous Improvement Plans.  They will be required to implement turnaround principles.  They will be provided assistance from the DE to investigate innovations that have been proven to increase student achievement.  They may be converted to charter schools by the district.  The lowest performing Title I schools will be required to set aside 20% of the district’s Title I allocation for implementation of turnaround principles, creating extended learning opportunities for students, and professional development.  I see no requirement for districts to offer transfers out of their lowest performing schools.


Iowa was not selected as a finalist in Round 2 of the Race to the Top competition.  However, we are apparently going to push forward with adopting the CCSSI standards anyway and continue with the project to align the CCSSI with the Iowa Core (see agenda item 9 and Tab J).

In Rent Seek and You Will Find, Duke Professor Michael Munger discusses the problem of city governments competing for federal grants.  This problem also applies to states seeking federal grants, as in the Race to the Top program.

[Y]ou have to pay for free money twice: first you have to collect the money, out of tax revenues. And then you have to pay for the money again, because the benefits are dissipated by what economists call “rent-seeking.” Let me explain.

The technical definition of rent is any return to investment, or effort, that exceeds the opportunity cost rate of return. So, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees earns a large rent, or premium, because of his scarce talents as a baseball player. He could earn a living as a banker, or a waiter, or something else. But it is unlikely that he could earn anything close to the $25 million per year he makes as a baseball player. Those rents encourage competition. And in most economic situations, that competition for profits produces benefits. But in politics, competition for those rents is often destructive.

The greater the rent, the greater the costs people are willing to incur to win it. When government hands out what appears to be free money, people are going to scramble to get some of it, incurring costs as long as those costs raise the chances of winning the “free” money sufficiently.

Unfortunately, in Iowa the costs of competing for Race to the Top funds are not easily seen.  How many dollars have been spent on consultants?  How many dollars have been spent on public employees to draft legislation, draft two rounds of Race to the Top applications, and now to align the CCSSI to the Iowa Core?  What opportunities have been lost to pursue other avenues of school reform that might actually raise student achievement instead of committing ourselves to the ones that are favored by the current Washington D.C. political elite?  How many hours and how many dollars already dedicated to implementing the Iowa Core will have been wasted as we scramble to adopt a new set of standards, even as we have already lost out on the funding they were supposed to help us win?  Are the costs incurred less than the amount we had hoped to win, which would have been at best, less than 1% of the current K-12 education budget (and is in fact, now, zero)?  Professor Munger continues:

[S]pending city money to win pretty much the same amount of federal money makes little sense economically. But it makes a lot of sense politically. As long as politicians are able to claim credit for bringing new federal spending to their state, district, or city, it doesn’t matter that each dollar “won” actually cost 30 cents, or even $1.20.

Remember that, as Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley attacks the Democrats for not doing more to pursue Race to the Top funding:

It should come as no surprise that Iowa was not selected as a finalist for the national “Race to the Top” grant program considering Governor Culver and legislative Democrats submitted an application that failed to meet the essential guidelines laid out by the Obama Administration. Senate Republicans attempted to improve Iowa’s chances by advancing key areas regarding pay for performance, student achievement and charter schools among others but Culver and his allies chose to listen to their union bosses and instead ignore the needs of our students.

Would our students be served by a pay for performance program?  How would one even work?  Are there any school districts successfully using a pay for performance plan to boost student achievement?  Would designing and implementing a pay for performance plan cost more than the Race to the Top grant award Iowa might have won?  Who cares when there is federal money on the table?  Arguably, the only potential winners here are the politicians.

Update: The Iowa Board of Education has adopted the Common Core State Standards.

Hat tip: Division of Labour.

Race to the Top, Round 2

Iowa will be applying for Race to the Top funds in round two.  Apparently, participating districts are eligible to directly receive only half of the Race to the Top award, if any.  That amounts to 87.5 million dollars over four years.  Which is $45.86 per student (based on 2008-2009 public school enrollment).  Or a budget increase of 0.48% each year for four years (based on 2009-2010 K-12 budget).  That’s less than one-quarter of the allowable growth this year.

Race to the Top

Iowa has joined the chase for federal funds.

The Iowa Department of Education notes that Iowa will be competing to receive $60 million to $175 million over four years.

This amounts to $15 million to $43.75 million per year or 0.3% to 0.95% of the $4.5 billion budgeted for K-12 spending for the 2009-2010 school year.*

To compete for this money, Iowa has to commit to adopting common K-12 standards by August 2, 2010 (see F-1).

The Common Core Standards Initiative standards have not been completed, yet the Iowa Department of Education has already committed Iowa to adopting the standards in order to apply for the Race to the Top funds (see Race to the Top State Plan Highlights).

As soon as it is available to states, Iowa will undertake a process of adopting and integrating the Common Core with the Iowa Core. We will re-convene the work groups that developed the Iowa Core to ensure alignment and integration between the Common Core and the Iowa Core.

The Common Core Standards Initiative (CCSI) has stirred up debate about the quality of the standards being drafted.  See Joanne Jacobs, Jay P. Greene (here and here) and kitchen table math, the sequel for discussion of common standards and CCSI, in particular.

Does the opportunity to compete for a four year award of funding that amounts to less than 1% of current K-12 spending justify a rush to adopt any and all reforms that Arne Duncan favors?  Or should Iowa be looking to states like Massachusetts, that consistently outperforms Iowa on the NAEP assessments and taking a more thoughtful approach to school reform.

*See Table 164 on page 265 of the 2009 COE Report.