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US rebukes Oklahoma for ditching school standards

Friday - 8/29/2014, 2:30am  ET

KEN MILLER
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- President Barack Obama's administration on Thursday stripped Oklahoma of authority to decide how to spend $29 million in education funding because the state abandoned national academic standards known as Common Core, in a rebuke that a union official said could lead to teacher layoffs.

The U.S. Department of Education said it was hitting Oklahoma with the sanction under the No Child Left Behind Act because the state could no longer demonstrate that its school standards were preparing students for college and careers.

The Republican-dominated Oklahoma Legislature voted this year to ditch Common Core, a national benchmark for what students should learn in such subjects as math and English that has been adopted in more than 40 states. GOP Gov. Mary Fallin signed the measure into law and Oklahoma will revert to weaker standards in place in 2010.

Following the announcement, Fallin blasted Obama and the federal government for the decision and said Oklahoma would fight vigorously.

"It is outrageous that President Obama and Washington bureaucrats are trying to dictate how Oklahoma schools spend education dollars," she said in a statement. "This is one more example of an out-of-control presidency that places a politicized Washington agenda over the well-being of Oklahoma students."

Common Core has drawn a chorus of complaints from conservatives, who see it as a federal power grab over education, traditionally a state and local matter. Louisiana's Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Obama administration, accusing it of illegally manipulating federal grant money to force states to adopt Common Core. In addition to Oklahoma, the Republican-led states of Indiana and South Carolina have ditched Common Core.

Washington is the only other state to have faced a federal sanction similar to Oklahoma, although the issue there was how teachers were evaluated rather than overall academic standards. More than 40 states have received "waivers" from the department of education, essentially approvals to states allowing flexibility in how federal money is spent under No Child Left Behind. Indiana and Kansas were granted one-year waivers under the education law Thursday, in sharp contrast to the Oklahoma decision.

"Very likely, it will lead to some districts having no option but to lay off teachers," said Amanda Ewing, associate executive director of the Oklahoma Education Association, a union representing 35,000 teachers.

She said this is because some schools are now using funds to pay salaries instead of devoting them to specific federal guidelines on how the money should be spent, such as absorbing costs for transporting students who choose to leave a low-performing school.

But Oklahoma education superintendent Janet Barresi said at a news conference after the decision that it was too early to tell how it would affect Oklahoma schools. The state received some $372 million in funding this year from the federal education department, she said.

No Child Left Behind was a hallmark of President George W. Bush's administration and aimed to get all children up to par in math and reading by 2014, but state education leaders increasingly complained that the goal wasn't realistic.

The states exempt from the 2014 deadline had to submit plans showing how they would prepare children for college and careers, set new targets for improving achievement among all students, reward the best-performing schools and focus help on the ones doing the worst.

The Oklahoma sanction takes immediate effect, except for a few provisions giving Oklahoma time to make some changes to its programs to comply with federal law the start of the 2015-2016 school year, the federal government said.


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