Quick turnarounds promised on state ESEA waiver requests

Education Department releases new streamlined waiver request form, allowing state educational agencies to be free from meeting certain requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
By: | April 8, 2020
Credit: Bearsky23, iStockCredit: Bearsky23, iStock

The U.S. Education Department released a streamlined request form for state educational agencies to request waivers from certain requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95. Congress authorized the waivers in Section 3511 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Pub. L. No. 116-136, which were designed to provide flexibility for SEAs and local educational agencies in meeting the unique challenges posed to school operations by COVID-19.

The new streamlined waiver request follows an earlier streamlined waiver request process from ESEA assessment and accountability provisions for SEAs. ED announced that all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia applied for and received waivers from those provisions.

SEAs are not required to use the new streamlined waiver request template to apply for further flexibilities, but in Letter to Chief State School Officers, 120 LRP 11869 (EDU 04/03/20), Assistant Secretary Frank Brogan said SEAs that submit waiver requests using the streamlined template can expect a response within one business day.

“The Education Department has been a valuable partner in helping states manage their response to the coronavirus pandemic, most recently by quickly creating an application for waivers allowed under the CARES Act,” said Carolyn Phenicie, press secretary for the Council of Chief State School Officers. “This is a rapidly evolving crisis, and states may need more flexibility going forward as they work to maintain learning opportunities for all students and keep the public safe.”

Chris Neale, associate commissioner for the Missouri Department of Education, said the streamlined waiver package was welcome, calling the standardized form a “huge timesaver” for the state.

He said the SEA was “already engaged in internal discussions about many of the same topics,” and it “just makes sense” to make money available longer and provide further funding flexibilities for districts. The professional development waiver is especially helpful, Neale said, because “needs assessments earlier this year may not have adequately addressed teachers’ needs” during extended school closures. He said Missouri has already submitted its waiver application to ED.

Other states are weighing their options. “We appreciate that [ED] has offered some of the flexibility we will need to successfully navigate through and beyond this time,” said Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. “Like other states, we are utilizing multiple teams in our state educational agency to review and unpack the information. It is possible we will not need all flexibilities offered and we will only apply for what makes the most sense for Wyoming.”

Waiver request

The streamlined application allows states to request the following waivers:

  • ESEA Section 1127(b) to allow an SEA to waive, if necessary, the 15 percent carryover limitation in ESEA Section 1127(a) for FY 2019 Title I, Part A funds.
  • Section 421(b) of the General Education Provisions Act (20 USC 1225(b)) to extend the period of availability of FY 2018 funds until Sept. 30, 2021, for programs in an SEA’s approved consolidated state plan.
  • ESEA Section 4106(d) to waive the requirement for local educational agency needs assessments for Title IV, Part A funds for SY 2019-20.
  • ESEA Section 4106(e)(2)(C), Section 4106(e)(2)(D), and Section 4106(e)(2)(E) to waive the content-area spending requirements (well-rounded educational opportunities, safe and healthy students, and effective use of technology) for FY 2018 and 2019 Title IV, Part A funds.
  • ESEA Section 4109(b) to waive the 15 percent spending limitation for technology infrastructure for FY 2018 and 2019 Title IV, Part A funds.
  • ESEA Section 8101(42) to waive the definition of “professional development” for activities funded for SY 2019-20. This will allow districts to provide “one-off” professional development on topics such as distance learning for educators, Brogan wrote.

To receive waivers, SEAs must make the following assurances:

  • SEA and LEAs will use funds in accordance with provisions of all statute, regulations, plans, and applications not subject to the requested waivers.
  • SEAs and LEAs will work to mitigate negative effects that may occur as a result of the waivers.
  • SEAs will provide public notice and the opportunity to comment on the waiver request to LEAs and the public by posting the notice and comment process on the SEA website.

Charles Hendrix covers education funding and other Title I issues for ESEA Now, a DA sister publication.