Elementary and Secondary Education:
Ed-Flex States Vary in Implementation of Waiver Process
HEHS-99-17, Nov 13, 1998
Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Education Flexibility Partnership Demonstration Act (Ed-Flex) in 1994, focusing on: (1) the scope of Ed-Flex and how it works; (2) the criteria states must meet to participate in Ed-Flex and identify the extent to which states not currently participating satisfy these criteria; (3) the number and type of waivers that Ed-Flex states have granted to their local school districts; (4) participating states' views on the usefulness of Ed-Flex; and (5) issues for ensuring accountability if Ed-Flex is continued or expanded.
GAO noted that: (1) under the Ed-Flex project, the state is allowed to make decisions about whether particular school districts should be granted waivers of certain federal requirements; (2) although the federal government has established a large number of education programs, states can waive only certain specific requirements within six programs; (3) in 5 of the 12 Ed-Flex states, the state can grant only individual waivers; (4) in the remaining seven states, the state can grant statewide waivers without the requirement that the district demonstrate its specific need for the waiver; (5) to be eligible for selection as an Ed-Flex state, a state had to meet two criteria related to its ability to implement Ed-Flex in conjunction with overall education reform; (6) states were required to: (a) have a plan for education reform that had been reviewed and approved by the federal Department of Education; and (b) be able to modify any of their own state requirements that were associated with the federal waivers they granted; (7) currently, only 2 of the 38 nonparticipating states clearly satisfy these criteria and would be eligible to participate if the limit of 12 Ed-Flex states was eliminated; (8) states participating in the Ed-Flex project vary in the number of waivers they have granted to local school districts; (9) the waivers granted by Ed-Flex states typically center around Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; (10) Title I provides funds to many school districts to give special educational assistance to economically and educationally disadvantaged students; (11) school districts seeking waivers have mainly sought to change how Title I funds can be used within a school or to change the distribution of Title I funds across schools; (12) states also vary in the degree to which they view these waivers as helpful; (13) some states told GAO that Ed-Flex is useful for creating a climate that encourages innovation and flexibility, even if few waivers are granted; (14) others reported that because the authority to grant waivers is limited to specific programs and requirements, Ed-Flex is of limited value; (15) the Ed-Flex project creates challenges in holding districts accountable for the results of individual waivers and also in holding states, districts, and the federal Department of Education accountable for the results of federal programs that are affected by these waivers; and (16) while some states have put in place specific goals and established clear and measurable objectives for evaluating the impact of waivers, many Ed-Flex states have not established any goals or have defined only vague objectives.