California waiver requests trending downward

California waiver requests trending downward

(Calif.) The number of school districts seeking relief from a state law requiring a summer meal program fell to a new low this spring in response to improving economic conditions and legislation that tightened restrictions.

School districts and county offices of education that hold summer school are required to provide one “nutritionally adequate” meal free to eligible students, with some exceptions.

Traditionally, schools that held summer sessions of less than four hours a day were allowed to petition the California State Board of Education to waive the requirement. Many did; indeed in 2004 nearly 140 local educational agencies took advantage of the relief process.

But the law was changed in 2005 to allow only those programs of two hours or less of daily instruction to receive the meal waiver.

So far in 2016, only six waiver requests have been made for the coming summer, according to a report released last week by the California Department of Education.

The state board has authority to grant a waiver to LEAs for most requirements of the Education Code, requests that typically take up a significant amount of time at the board’s bimonthly meetings.

That said, waiver applications appear to be on a three-year downward trend, the CDE reported:

  • 314 waivers processed in 2015; 267 approved.
  • 429 waivers processed in 2014; 385 approved.
  • 560 waivers processed in 2013; 501 approved.

In the recent past, the most common waiver requests were aimed at getting relief from limits on how many students a single teacher could serve. Driven by cuts in state funding during the recession, most LEAs had to increase class sizes and were almost routinely exempted from fiscal sanctions for doing so.

In 2013, the state board received 77 requests to waive class size penalties; in 2014, just 15 districts asked for the same relief; and last year only 14 were filed.

Special education requirements have become the most problematic for many school districts – especially requirements that LEAs provide “extended school year,” or summer school, for any student whose individual education plan calls for it.

Last year, the state board received 22 requests to waive extended school year; 21 in 2014; and 15 in 2013.

Some LEAs also struggled to meet requirements to have educational interpreters for the deaf – six waivers were requested last year; seven in 2014; and 20 in 2013.

Finally, the Quality Investment Education Act continues to create challenges for school administrators.

QEIA, created by the settlement of a 2006 lawsuit between the California Teachers Association and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, provides about $400 million in additional money to low-performing schools annually for a total of approximately $3 billion through 2013-14.

In exchange for the extra money, enrolled schools were required to meet six performance benchmarks, including commitments to maintaining smaller class sizes, hiring experienced teachers and providing more school counselors.

Hundreds of waivers have been issued by the state board giving districts more time to meet program requirements since its inception, and while that pace has slowed, some LEAs continue to struggle.

Over the three years beginning in 2013, QEIA accounted for more than 300 waiver requests. more