Seeking Flexibility in School Management
Enacted in 1981 as part of AB 777, the waiver authority provides school districts relief from the prescriptive nature of California's voluminous Education Code. If a particular law or regulation conflicts with a local situation, school districts may seek alternatives by requesting a waiver of state requirements, subject to local and state review (State Board of Education).
Each school district must justify the need for a waiver. However, waivers are automatically approved unless the State Board of Education finds grounds for denial. "Not meeting student needs," "jeopardizing parental involvement," and "increasing state costs" are common reasons for denial. During 1982, more than 90 percent of waiver requests were approved. Most are in non-controversial areas like driver training and school holidays. The State Board of Education seldom, if ever, approves a waiver request over the objections of a group at the local level. This may discourage local boards from seeking controversial waivers.
By mid-1984, the number of waiver requests reached 200 per month. Yet the bulk of these requests were in the areas of business and administration. Program waivers are still rare, despite the initial clamor about needed flexibility. Why so few? Several explanations are possible.
First, few districts may be aware of the process. Second, school districts may view the application process as cumbersome and time-consuming. Third, program flexibility problems may be addressed at the local level. Fourth, school districts may be using existing, though sub-optimal, local procedures to coordinate categorical programs.
Has needed flexibility been gained by the waiver authority, or are problems simply not surfacing at the state level? One observer noted that school site personnel are often unclear about the source of their major problems. Often the state was blamed for regulations that emanated from federal or local authorities. Ordinarily, there is more potential in the use of waivers by local educational agencies than the state has seen thus far. Case studies of involvement by mandated advisory groups would be helpful in displaying the management of programmatic difficulties at the school district level.
Recommendation: Oversight hearings by SBE, the legislature, or both are recommended to explore how the full potential of the waiver process can be realized.