ESEA Waivers Not a “Free Pass to Any State”

Media 02.9,12

WASHINGTON, DC –– Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, issued the following statement in response to the Obama administration’s approval of state Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver applications:

“The federal government has always been the major catalyst for ensuring educational equity, from desegregation to non-discrimination laws to closing achievement gaps.  Today’s announcement by President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan reinforces the obligation of states to be accountable for the federal dollars they receive to improve educational outcomes for our nation’s most vulnerable students.  Using terms like ‘relief’ or ‘liberation’ from mandates to describe these waivers perverts the federal government’s role in ensuring quality education for all students. 

While the administration has taken steps to preserve some important elements of ESEA, the devil is in the details of these states’ new plans.  Civil and human rights organizations will be conducting a thorough analysis of each one in the coming weeks. Our coalition will continue to play an active role in holding all 10 of these states and the Department of Education accountable for our children.

Today’s waiver approvals should in no way be construed as giving a free pass to any state to ignore their obligations to educate every child.   States have made many hollow promises in the past, under both No Child Left Behind and the Improving America’s Schools Act, and it will be critical for the administration to ensure that states deliver this time.  

To date, states have had dismal track records in closing achievement gaps, stemming the dropout crisis, engaging parents and communities, and ensuring that all schools have adequate and equitable resources to educate all students.  As we review the final approved plans, we will examine whether states have fully committed to holding all their districts and schools accountable for the achievement of all students, including students of color, English language learners, students with disabilities, and students living in poverty.

The Department of Education must closely monitor implementation of these states’ plans and be ready to step in at the first signs of default.”

Nancy Zirkin is executive vice president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its 200-plus member organizations, visit