Federal education waiver is victory for local control

Taking away money from schools that underperformed does not enhance education.

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The federal "No Child Left Behind" law was, of course, well intended. Who doesn't want every child to succeed in school -- and in life?

But imposing a one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem that spans 50 states with as many different education departments was clearly ill conceived.

Last week Washington state became one of 26 states to be granted a waiver from the federal education requirement that places sanctions on schools that do not achieve mandated goals.

We are pleased Washington is out from under this law. Its aim, despite the rhetoric, has been to make the members of Congress look as if they are doing something to raise education standards in America.

The fact is education -- schools -- are not a federal concern. It is up to the individual states and local school boards to set education policy.

If this were a federal matter, Congress would have the authority to regulate schools. It does not. The only way Congress can sway states to follow its requirements is to withhold funding.

Underperforming schools were threatened with losing federal dollars allocated to help these schools boost the test scores of their students. The basic premise is flawed. How does taking money away from already underfunded schools serve to do anything but launch them into a death spiral.

The waiver granted Washington state will allow schools receiving funds from Title I, which are are earmarked to improve the academic achievement of economically disadvantaged students, to keep the money even if the schools miss "No Child Left Behind" achievement goals. In Walla Walla, all district schools except Berney and Prospect Point are Title I schools. In College Place, all except Sager Middle School are Title I and will see relief under the waiver.

In return for the waiver, individual schools and local districts must meet other goals and objectives to demonstrate struggling students are reaching academic targets.

Washington state has, to its credit, imposed higher standards for students. The requirements to earn a high school diploma have been made more challenging.

We would expect the Legislature, as well as state and local school officials, to stay on this track regardless of what the federal government says or does.

Schools are a state and local responsibility.

Yet, given that education is among the most important issues to voters, Congress and the federal government are not likely to cede their involvement anytime soon. Therefore, having the U.S. Department of Education grant the waiver should be seen as a victory for local control.

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