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Utah schools can ignore the requirements of No Child Left Behind for another year after the Obama administration approved the state's application for a waiver extension Thursday.
The Department of Education announced that six states, including Utah, had been approved for waivers, which free schools from the Adequate Yearly Progress requirements of the embattled education law.
Without a waiver, schools would be required to show 100 percent student proficiency on statewide tests or be subject to sanctions, including diverted funding for at-risk students, faculty and administrative changes and potentially the closing and reopening of low-performing schools as charters.
The question of whether to request a waiver extension divided the state School Board and prompted months of debate about the need to preserve educational sovereignty.
Board members ultimately voted unanimously in August to request a waiver, but language was included in the request stating that Utah maintains control over its schools standards and curriculum.
"We believe the waiver approval affirms our state autonomy while removing the more onerous aspects and requirements of [No Child Left Behind]," Board Chairman David Crandall said in a prepared statement.
No Child Left Behind waivers have generated some controversy, with critics accusing President Barack Obama of using incentives to circumvent the legislative process. Locally, many opponents of the Common Core State Standards believe that Utah's waiver requires the state School Board to adopt educational benchmarks written outside of the state.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes on Tuesday released the findings of an investigation into Utah's participation in both the Common Core and No Child Left Behind waivers. He concluded that Utah maintains control over its school standards and curriculum and that the waiver from No Child Left Behind is permitted under Utah statute.
"Our waiver is in compliance with our constitution and our state laws," Reyes said.
A total of 41 states hold waivers granting flexibility from No Child Left Behind, with 35 of those waivers scheduled to expire in 2014, according to the Department of Education. All 35 expiring states have requested extensions and in 29 states, including Utah, those extensions have been granted.
"America's schools and classrooms are undergoing some of the largest changes in decades changes that will help prepare our students with the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that tomorrow's economy will require," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a prepared statement. "This extension will allow the states to continue the critical work of implementing the bold reforms they developed to improve achievement for all students."