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Indiana requests new No Child Left Behind waiver

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Democratic Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz submitted Indiana's request for a new waiver from the No Child Left Behind requirements on Monday in the hopes that the state can avoid losing control of how some of its federal education money is spent.

The filing beat a deadline set by U.S. Department of Education officials for the state to submit a new waiver that addresses concerns raised by federal monitors. At stake is control over a portion of the more than $200 million in federal "Title I" education funding that Indiana receives each year.

Staff from the Ritz administration, Gov. Mike Pence's education and jobs agency, the General Assembly and the U.S. Department of Education worked intensely over the past two months to craft the new application.

"Because of their work, I believe that Hoosier schools will have much needed flexibility over how they use some of their federal funding. Most importantly, this flexibility will improve education for our students," Ritz said in a statement.

Federal officials told Ritz in April that problems with the state's monitoring of low-performing schools had placed the state's waiver in jeopardy. They also expressed concerns about the state's teacher and principal evaluation system, which yielded surprisingly few poor reviews earlier this year and raised doubts among conservative education advocates who sought the changes.

Ritz staff members said they were promised a response by the end of July, but did not say if that is a hard and fast deadline. The federal review of the state was completed last August and Ritz's staff said they were promised a response in the fall, but did not receive the state's review until many months later.

The decision came shortly after Indiana became the first state to exit the national Common Core education standards, but federal officials said they were fine with the alternative education standards the state developed.

As a part of the negotiations over the new waiver, federal officials said that this fall the state would have to begin using a new statewide standardized test, written to the education rules replacing the Common Core standards. A new, second test will be used in the following school year, crafted more closely to the state's new standards.

The crafting of the state's new waiver also ended a period of relative calm at the State Board of Education, which has been home to the most visible political battles between supporters of Ritz and supporters of the education changes pushed by former Republican Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett.

Tensions were high at a special meeting last week that was called to review the state's waiver request. Ritz who chairs the board, scrapped with Republican board members Brad Oliver and Dan Elsener over whether she had been open enough with the board.

The partisan squabbling does not appear to be reaching levels like last year, however. Ritz's failed lawsuit accusing the state's board members of violating the state's public access laws spurred U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to quip on the "dysfunction" from the state's education leaders.

Meanwhile, Democratic elections lawyer Bill Groth refiled the suit in Marion County last December. The case is still pending.

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