With a plan stressing college or career readiness after high school, less bureaucracy for school systems and more freedom to spend its share of federal money, Louisiana was among eight states that were granted federal waivers Tuesday from the strict requirements of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.
State Superintendent of Education John White said the U.S. Department of Education's approval of the waiver application means school districts will have more freedom in deciding how to spend $375 million in federal funds, most of it coming through the Title I program designed to boost education opportunities for students from low-income families.
"Today we've raised the bar for excellence but given educators more freedom to hit that bar," White said in a telephone news conference.
No Child Left Behind requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. The waivers throw out that fundamental requirement, provided they offer a viable alternative plan.
President Barack Obama's administration is granting waivers in exchange for promises from states to improve how they prepare and evaluate students. In all, 19 states have been given waivers so far.
The waivers are a stopgap measure until Congress rewrites the decade-old law, which has been up for renewal since 2007. Federal lawmakers agree the law needs to be changed, but they've bickered over how to do that.
White said the state maintains an "aspirational goal" of full proficiency by 2014. "We're establishing at the same time very reasonable goals for school progress."
Louisiana's waiver application was multi-faceted, including references to the state school accountability plan that factors in performance on the ACT college preparation exam and other tests.
He said the policies called for in the waiver raise the performance bar for kindergarten through eighth-grade schools by no longer awarding points in the accountability program for less than grade-level performance; In higher grades, extra points are awarded for performance on advanced placement, ACT and other tests.
White added that the waiver granted Tuesday frees school administrators from numerous paperwork requirements.
The state Department of Education said provisions for changes in the use of Title I money include the elimination of requirements that certain percentages of the money be spent on supplemental education services or professional development programs. It also allows local education officials to concentrate the money on programs they believe will improve student performance.
"Until Congress reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, states need greater funding flexibility and relief from the current law," Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said in a news release. "I appreciate that Louisiana's proposal for ESEA flexibility maintains high expectations and accountability for the success of all students - regardless of physical or learning disabilities, race, ethnicity, income status, or English language proficiency."