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U.S. education chief wants Indiana waiver updates

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U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked Indiana officials this week to provide his staff regular updates on how the state plans to address concerns with its No Child Left Behind waiver ahead of a June 30 deadline.

Duncan made the request in phone calls this week with Gov. Mike Pence and state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who detailed her call in an email obtained Friday by The Associated Press. Ritz wrote the email to members of the State Board of Education and staff for the new education agency Pence created last year.

Indiana was one of 10 states to receive a waiver from the landmark education law in 2012. But the U.S. Education Department alerted the state last week that its waiver was at risk following an August 2013 monitoring session that revealed concerns with how the state was working with low-performing schools.

Federal officials also expressed concerns about the state's teacher evaluation system and its decision to withdraw from the Common Core national education standards.

Losing the waiver could cost Indiana control of more than $200 million in Title I education funds. Both Ritz and Pence have said they are committed to keeping the waiver.

Ritz's email said she spoke with Duncan on Tuesday about the monitoring report and was heartened to learn that the education secretary "wants to continue to work closely" with Indiana to get the waiver extended for a year. She said Duncan conveyed that Pence shared the commitment to extend the waiver and recommended regular conference calls between his staff and the monitoring team before the June 30 deadline to address the findings.

Ritz spokesman Daniel Altman confirmed Friday that the superintendent sent the email, saying: "I think it's a case of an issue that we want to work with them and we want to make sure it's work that they're going to be appreciative of."

Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault said the governor described his talk with Duncan as "substantive and productive" and offered his administration's support in ensuring the state maintains its waiver.

Duncan did not respond to request for comment Friday.

States that were granted waivers from No Child Left Behind were required 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. Indiana's guidelines were written by former schools Superintendent Tony Bennett but were left to Ritz to implement after she defeated him in the 2012 election.

Ritz's spokesman, David Galvin, said the superintendent called Duncan on Tuesday, a day after Pence called Duncan to discuss the waiver. The federal report covers February 2012, when Bennett submitted the waiver, to August 2013, when federal monitors came out to Indiana, he said.

Galvin said state education officials have been asking Duncan's staff for the report since last November, but they did not receive it until last week, a few days after the state adopted new standards replacing Common Core. Duncan is a staunch defender of the national Common Core standards and was also close with Bennett, an early Common Core supporter.

The State Board of Education is set to consider changes to the waiver at a special meeting Tuesday, the board will meet again the following day on other issues in rare back-to-back meetings.

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