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School Innovation Waivers

January 23, 2022
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Brittany Whitley

Missouri public schools and districts are subject to federal (e.g., 20 USC Ch. 70) and state (Mo. Rev. Stat. 160-171) education standards and oversight. One approach to increasing school and regional autonomy is the use of education innovation waivers. Innovation waivers allow states, districts, or schools to apply for specific exemptions from existing laws when doing so would have a positive impact on student and teacher outcomes. Schools that apply for waivers, sometimes called innovation or autonomous schools, are often considered a middle ground between district public schools and charter schools, due to increased school autonomy, while remaining accountable to a locally elected board. House Bill 2152, Senate Bill 662 and Senate Bill 1009 would allow schools to apply for innovation waivers, approved by the State Board of Education, that would exempt the school from specific regulations in order to improve student college and/or career readiness, or improve pay, recruitment, retention, training, preparation, or professional development for teachers. 

Highlights 

  • Since 2012, Missouri has received waivers under the Elementary & Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which provide flexibility in some federal education requirements in cases where state policy is more rigorous or comprehensive.
  • Twenty-four states (including Kentucky, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas, and Mississippi) currently have at least one education innovation program in state statute.
  • Students who attend innovation schools are most likely to demonstrate improved academic performance in the years immediately following the waiver. Lack of sufficient oversight and/or continuing improvements to innovation programs may explain the lack of long-term effects.
  • In some cases, innovation waivers can sustain educational inequities. Programs that involve teachers and communities in the waiver and implementation process are most likely to equitably serve all students.

Limitations 

  • Innovation waivers are only one factor contributing to student performance and other measures of “school quality.”

 

This Note has been updated. You can access the previous version (published March 2021) here.

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