oversight

Education Programs: Information on the Ed-Flex Demonstration Project

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-12-15.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

      United States
GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20648
                                                                             /ts-9 &sy
      Health, Education   and Human Semites Division
                                                                   _ -
      B-278816

      December 15, 1997

      The Honorable Ron Wyden
      United States Senate

      Subject:    Education Programs: Information on the Ed-Flex Demonstration
                  Proiect

      Dear Senator Wyden:

      The Congress has expressed increasing concern about the proliferation of
      federal education programs. In recent testimony before the Education Task
      Force of the Senate Committee on the Budget, we discussed several issues
      that arise because multiple education programs are currently scattered
      throughout the federal government.’ At that hearing, you asked us to
      provide additional information on the Education Flexibility Partnership
      Demonstration Program (“Ed-Flex”), a demonstration project within the
      federal Department of Education. Under the Ed-Flex project, the
      Department of Education delegates to selected states its power to grant
      individual school districts temporary exceptions (waivers) from certain
      individual federal requirements. As we agreed with your staff, we describe
      in this correspondence the Ed-Flex project and discuss whether Ed-Flex is
      structured to address the issues associated with multiple federal programs.
      However, as agreed, we did not etiuate the overall effect of the Ed-Flex
      project.

      To obtain information for this correspondence, we reviewed the relevant
      legislation, interviewed Department of Education officials, and reviewed
      agency documents. We performed this work in November and December
      1997 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.




      ‘See Federal Education Fundma: Multiple Programs and Lack of Data Raise
      Efficiencv and Effectiveness Concerns (GAO!I’-HEHS-98-46,Nov. 6, 1997).
                                         GAOIHEES-9%61R The Ed-Flex Demonstration   Project
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RESULTSIN BRIEF

Under the Ed-Flex project, 12 states have been given limited authority to
waive certain federal requirements affecting local school districts and
schools.’ Ed-Flex delegates federal authority to the states rather than
expanding the scope of waiver authority generally available for education
programs. Because the Department retains its own waiver authority outside
the Ed-Flex states, school districts in other states may also request similar
waivers. Instead of these waivers being approved at the state level, as in an
Ed-Flex state, the waivers are approved at the federal level through the
Department of Education. For both Ed-Flex states and the federal
Department of Education, the authority to grant waivers is restricted to
specific requirements within specific programs. For example, neither the
requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act nor any
program’s health and safety requirements can be waived. Waivers can be
granted, however, for some requirements under Title I, such as those
allocating funds within a school district. Through Ed-Flex, the Department
hopes to (1) simplify the waiver process and (2) assist the twelve states in
implementing education reforms that are designed to help alI children reach
challenging academic standards.

The Ed-Flex demonstration is generally not structured to address the issues
that result from the large number of federal programs administered by
different departments and agencies such as (1) additional complex@ in
acquiring information about federal requirements, (2) increased clifiicuhy in
obtaining and analyzing information on program participation and
educational outcomes, and (3) the potential for reduced flexibility in the use
of federal funds. Because waivers cannot reduce the number of agencies or
programs, they do not and cannot make fundamental changes in the
underlying structure or design of federal assistance in education. Since Ed-
Flex does not ensure coordination across agencies and programs, it is also
not well-positioned to streamline the different administrative processes a
school district must fol.low. In addition, waivers do not simplify the
 challenge of obtaining the information necessary to characterize federal
programs or evaluate their effect. Although waivers of federal regulations-
 whether administered through Ed-Flex or through the federal Department of
 Education-cannot provide additional funding flexibiliw across all federal


2The 12 Ed-Flex states are Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas,Maryland,
Massachusetts,Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Vermont.
2                              GAORIEHS-9%6lR   The Ed-Flex Demonstration Project
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programs, they can increase a school district’s flexibility. within a covered
federal program.

BACKGROUND

The federal government has established a,large number of education
programs that are often targeted to specific groups and frequently provide
comparable services. For example, in fiscal year 1996, 127 federally funded
programs were targeted to at-risk and delinquent youths, and many of these
programs appear to fund parallel services? Similarly, in fiscal year 1993 the
federal government’s 86 teacher training programs often provided
comparable types of services, and, in fiscal year 1992, many of the 34 major
early childhood programs also provided similar services, to overlapping
target group~.~

Each of these federal programs establishes requirements that states or local
school districts or both must follow in implementing a program. Some of
these programs-such as the Safe and Drug Free Schools program-impose
few restrictions while others are more prescriptive. For example, the
Department of Education has issued no program-specific regulations for
either the Goals 2000 or the Safe and Drug F’ree Schools prograrn5 In
contrast, the Title I program generally restricts how districts allocate federal
dollars among schools, the services that these dollars may fund, and the
children who may benefit.

Some federal agencies, including the Department of Education, have the
authority to waive certain federal requirements under specific programs.
Thus, a state or district or even a school may be granted an exemption from
certain requirements for a given period of time. The extent to which



3SeeAt-Risk and Delinauent Youth: Fiscal Year 1996Progmrns (GAO/HEHS
97-ZllR, Sept. 2, 1997).
‘See Multiule Teacher Training Programs: Information on Budgets. Services,
and Target GITOUDS(GAO/HEHS-9571FS,Feb. 22,1995) and Earlv Childhood
Programs: Multinle I?rograms and Overlapuinn Target Grouts (GAOMEHS-95
4FS, Oct. 31, 1994).
5Statesimplementing these programs must conform to general and
administrative regulations, however.
3                               GAO/BEES-98-6lR   The Ed-Flex Demonstration Project
B-278816

waivers are available and the scope of the agency’s authority to issue
waivers vary from agency to agency and from program to program

THE ED-FLEX DEMONSTRATfONPROJECT

Ed-Flex DelegatesExisting Waiver Authoritv
From the Federal Government to Selected States

The Goals 2000: Educate America Act, which authorizes Ed-Flex, allows the
Secretary of Education to authorize up to 12 states to waive certain
requirements applicable to several major federal education programs6
However, state and school districts in non-Ed-Flex states may also request
similar waivers. Instead of these waivers being approved at the state level,
as in an Ed-Flex state, the waivers are approved at the federal level through
the Department of Education. According to the Department of Education,
the purpose of Ed-Flex is to use these waivers to simplify the waiver
process and to assist the states in removing potential regulatory barriers to ,
the successful implementation of comprehensive school reform plans.
Waivers granted under Ed-Flex can provide local school districts with
greater flexibility in using federal funds. The Department of Education’s Ed-
Flex guidance says that becausethe Department of Education emphasizes
holding local school districts accountable for results m administering its
waiver authority, Ed-Flex states are expected to do the same.

Under Ed-Flex, the state rather than the federal Department of Education
has the power to waive certain requirements. To be eligible to apply for Ed-
Flex status, a state educational agency is required to (1) have a Goals 2000
State improvement plan that is approved by the Secretary of Education and
(2) waive associated state-imposed requirements relating to education while
holding the school districts and schools accountable for the performance of




‘Six Ed-Flex designations,authorized in the original Goals 2000 legislation,
had to be awarded to three large states (states with populations of 3.5 million
or more) and three small states (states with populations of less than 3.5
million). An additional six states were authorized by the 1996 Omnibus
Appropriations Act. However, there is no requirement that the additional six
designations be divided evenly between large and small states.

4                               GAOMEHS-98-61R The Ed-Flex Demonstration Project
B-278816

their students.’ Thirteen states applied for designation as an Ed-Flex state.
Six state educational agencieswere awarded Ed-Flex status between
February 1995 and March 1996,and an additional six states were awarded
Ed-Flex status between May 1996 and July 1997 {see figure 1). The
thirteenth state that applied for Ed-Flex status withdrew its application
when it determined that it could not waive its state statutory or regulatory
education requirements.




‘States may receive Goals 2000 funding without having a state plan approved
by the Secretary of Education, but states without an approved plan are not
eligible to apply for Ed-Flex status.
5                              GAO/HERS-9%6lR   The Ed-Flex Demonstration Project
    P




.
B-278816

Ed-Flex Waiver Author@
Is Limited in Scone

Under the Ed-Flex project, a state’s waiver authority is limited to specific
programs and requirements administered by the Department of Education.
For example, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the
Bilingual Education Program are not subject to Ed-Flex waiver authority.
Ed-Flex states may waive certain federal statutory or regulatory
requirements applicable to one or more of the following six programs or
acts:

      Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965
      (ESEA)-Helping Disadvantaged Children Meet High Standards-
      provides funding to help local school districts give additional
      assistanceto disadvantaged children.

      Title II of ESEA-Eisenhower Professional Development Program-
      provides funding to local school districts to provide teacher training
      and professional development in mathematics and science.

      Title IV of ESEA-Safe and Drug-Free Schools and .Communities-
      provides funding for programs to prevent violence and substance
      abuse.

      Title VI of ESEA-Innovative Education Program Strategies-provides
      funding to assist school districts in developing innovative programs in
      several areas, including adult education and family literacy.

      Part C of Title VII of ESEA-Emergency Immigrant Education-
      provides funding for the educational needs of immigrant children.

      The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education
      Act provides support for vocational and technical education programs
      at the secondary and postsecondary levels.

Ed-Flex states may waive some requirements of the General Education
Provisions Act and the Education Department General Administrative
Regulations (EDGAR) that apply to these programs. For example, Texas
waived one EDGAR provision that requires written approval before
transferring training funds to another budget category. However, Ed-Flex
states are not authorized to waive any federal regulatory or statutory

7                              GAOIHEHS-9%61R The Ed-Flex Demonstration Project
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requirement relating to (1) health and safety, (2) civil rights, (3)
maintenance of effort, (4) comparability of services, (5) the equitable
participation of students and professional staff in private schools, (6)
parental participation and involvement, and (7) the distribution of funds to
state or local education agencies.

Although the Ed-Flex states have the same authority in terms of the specific
requirements they may and may not waive, the waiver powers can be more
extensive in some states than in others. Of the 12 Ed-Flex states, 7-
Colorado, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas, and Vermont-have
the authority to grant both statewide waivers (that can be used by any
district in the state) and individual waivers (that can be used by only the
district that applied and was approved for the waiver). The remaining five
states-Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts,and Oregon-have the authority
to grant waivers to individual school districts but do not have the authority
to grant waivers statewide.

Denartment of Education and Ed-Flex States
ReDort Similar Exneriences With Waivers

In its September 30, 1997, report to the Congress, the Department of
Education reported that it received relatively few waiver requests from
school districts. Similarly, the Ed-Flex states granted relatively few waivers
during the first 2 years of the project (see table 1). Three states-Colorado,
Maryland, and Oregon-granted only one waiver each for the 199596 and
1996-97school years.




 8                              GAOMEHS-98-6lR   The Ed-Flex Demonstration Project
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Table 1: Waivers Granted in Ed-Flex States in 199596and 199697 School
Years


    State             Individual school distrkts            Statewide

    Colorado                      1                             0
    Kansas                        14                     Not applicable
    Maryland                      1                             0
    Massachusetts                 6                      Not applicable
    New Mexico                    0”                            0
    Ohio                          14                            2
    Oregon                        1                      Not applicable
    Texas                         15                            8
    Vermont                       3                             0

Note: The table lists 9 of the 12 Ed-Flex states. Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan
were selected to participate in the Ed-Flex project in July 1997.

“New Mexico was granted Ed-Flex status in August 1996.

Ed-Flex states and the Department of Education have also seen and approved
similar types of waiver requests, most of which have sought to change the way
funds are distributed or to broaden the- range of individuals who may benefit.
For example, for both Ed-Flex states and the Department of Education, waivers
of the provisions for targeting Title I funds within a school district accounted
for the largest number of requested and approved waivers. These waivers allow
school districts to distribute Title I funds according to criteria established by
the district rather than adhering solely to the prescribed formula Two other
common types of waiver requests are tkquently received and granted by both
the Ed-Flex states and the Department of Education. F’irst, some school
districts have requested waivers to make it easier for individual schools to
implement the federal Title I program as a schoolwide project (When
operating Title I as a schoolwide project, the school can use its Title I funds to
implement a plan to improve the education of all students in the school, not

9                              GAOiHEES-9%61B The Ed-Flex Demonstration Project
B-278816

just students who are eligible under Title I.) Second, another common type of
waiver allows individual school districts to use funds provided under the
Eisenhower professional development program for areas other than
mathematics and science, such as reading or social studies.

ED-FLEX IS GENERALLY NOT
STRUCTURED TO ADDRESS ISSUES
RESULTING PROM MULTIPLE PROGRAMS

In many very different areas-corn education to land management and from
employment training to food safety-federal assistancehas been widely
fragmented, often into large numbers of programs administered by many federal
departments and agencies. The proliferation of federal programs can be
perceived as imposing special burdens on the local organizations that are
responsible for delivering federally funded services in their communities.
Multiple programs may require these organizations to deal with many different
people in different agencies and departments to manage separate application
requirements and reporting expectations. The profusion of federal programs
may also impede efforts to learn how to make programs more effective by
obtaining and analyzing information on program participation and outcomes. In
addition, the multiplicity of federal programs may contribute to providing less
flexibility in the use of funds than some recipients wouId like. Waivers in
general, including those granted under the Ed-Flex project, are designed to deal
with particular problems associated with specific individual program
requirements; they are not designed to address the cumulative effect of multiple
federal programs.

Ed-Flex Waivers Cannot Reduce
the Large Number of Administering Agencies
Associated With Mukinle Programs

Program waivers cannot reduce the number of administering federal agencies
and programs that apply to education. As a result, states and local school
districts may still be faced with a difficult task in obtaining information and
technical assistance, fuhilhng separate program application and reporting
requirements, and otherwise managing large numbers of federal programs.
Neither Ed-Flex states nor the Department of Education can waive & the
requirements of any one program, nor can they waive m requirements for
programs expressly excluded from the waiver authority. By obtaining waivers
for specific regulations, a district may be able to reduce paperwork
requirements within a single federal program. However, because waivers do

 10                            GAOKEJZHS-98-61RThe Ed-Flex Demonstration Project
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not make changes in the underlying structure of federal-programs, the Ed-Flex
project is not positioned to streamline the number of different administrative
processes a school district must follow, nor can waivers simplify the school
district’s need to be aware of and coordinate with individuals in different
departments and agencies.

Ed-Flex Waivers Are Not Structured
to Facilitate Program Evaluation

The Ed-Flex project is not designed to solve the problems multiple programs
create for program evaluation. The sheer number of departments and agencies
that spend federal education dollars makes it hard to aggregate existmg
information among federal programs and obtain and analyze information on
program participation and educational outcomes. Basic defkritions and
measures of participation and outcomes can differ across programs or even
across states within a single program.

The overall effect of Ed-Flex waivers on program evaluation is not clear.
Depending on how each individual state chooses to use its authority, Ed-Flex
waivers could provide some potentially useful if limited information, or they
could make filling information gaps even more difficult. For example, if Ed-
Flex waivers are used to align federal reporting requirements with state
requirements, differences in how states define and report information on
federal programs could increase, making aggregation and comparison more
difficult. In addition, as Ed-Flex creates more variation in the requirements and
as the administration of federal programs varies across states, researchers are
faced with data that are more difficult to aggregateand a greater number of
potentially confounding factors.

In contrast, the accountability measures established by states with respect to
particular waivers could provide useful information about how federal programs
are working. However, the information gathered under Ed-Flex can be useful
only if it is sufficiently specific and detailed. For example, Texas’Ed-Flex
report states that districts that apply Eisenhower funds to areas other than
mathematics and science must meet specific numerical targets for improvement
in student test scores in mathematics and science; districts that do not achieve
these targets will not be granted a continuation of the waiver. As a result, as
these waivers are implemented and reviewed, Texas state officials can gather
and analyze data that could be useful to other states and the education research
community. In contrast, several other states that are also allowing districts to
apply Eisenhower funds to other areas have not established specific and

11                             GAO/EEHS-9%61R The Ed-Flex Demonstration Project
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measurable criteria, potentially making it more difficult for others to build on
their experience.

Ed-Flex Waivers Cannot Provide Additional
Funding Flexibilitv Across All Programs but
Can Within the Scoue of a Covered Program

The large number of federal education programs may sometimes be associated
with somewhat limited flexibility for local organizations in how they use federal
funds. Many potentially overlapping programs were created to target newly
identified clients (such as at-risk children), to focus on crucial services (such as
teacher training), or to promote new program delivery approaches (such as
credit programs in addition to grants). As a result, many federal programs are
structured to restrict individuals who may benefit, services that can be
purchased, and funding distribution.

Waivers cannot address the inflexibility that may arise from these numerous,
narrowly targeted categorical programs. Waivers do not allow states to alter the
distribution of federal funds to school districts, nor can they be used to move
funds fi-om one federal program to another. Further, both the Department of
Education and the Ed-Flex states may grant waivers only if they are consistent
with the program’s original purpose, and certain key restrictions may be an
integral part of the program’s purpose.

However, waivers can provide districts with more flexibility restriction by
restriction, program by program. Some school districts (both inside and outside
Ed-Flex states) have used waivers to ease some funding restrictions within the
confines of an individual federal program. For example, some districts have
used waivers to allow more schools to implement Title I schoolwide projects,
which allow schools greater flexibility in determining which students can
benefit from Title I services. Under both the Secretary of Education’s waiver
authority and Ed-Flex, the use of waivers to make funding more flexible within
programs has been somewhat controversial. Some states and districts have
endorsed the use of these waivers because they believe that the waivers have
allowed federal dollars to better serve local needs. In its Ed-Flex application,
Ohio stated that its expects Ed-Flex to encourage innovation on the part of
local school districts. However, other observers have been less enthusiastic
about the potential effect of these waivers because they believe that such
waivers (particularly under Title I) might dilute the effect of program funding
for the specific target group being senred.


 12                              GAOEIEHS-SS-61R The Ed-Flex Demonstration Project
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AGENCY COMMENTS

We received comments on this correspondence from the Department of
Education, and we incorporated them as appropriate. The Department
generally agreed with our characterization of the Ed-Flex project.




If you have any questions, please call me at (202) 512-7014. Major contributors
to this correspondence included Harriet C. Ganson, Assistant Director; Sarah L.
Glavin, Senior Economist; Arthur T. Merriam Jr., Senior Evaluator, and Linda
W. Stokes, Senior Evaluator.

Sincerely yours,




Carlotta C. Joyner
Director, Education and
Employment Issues




(104912)

13                            GAO/HEHS-9%61R The Ed-Flex Demonstration Project
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