Dual Louisiana ESSA Plans on Collision Course

By Daarel Burnette II — January 19, 2017 2 min read
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A few weeks ago, I wrote about states that have dual Every Students Succeeds Act task forces that are likely to come up with contrasting state accountability plans.

It’s the result of the tangled power structures states have constructed over the years as dictating education policy has been volleyed between local, state and federal governments.

Louisiana, I pointed out, is an extreme example of how ambiguous state law is when it comes to determining who should be in charge of shaping policy, and that conflict may soon come to a head, according to local reports.

The state’s school board, known as the Board of Elementary and Second Education (BESE), is made up of three governor-appointed members and eight elected members. The state superintendent is appointed by the board. In 1997, the board created an accountability commission to advise the board on ways to improve the state’s schools. That board is made up of members appointed by BESE and has had a significant influence in shaping the state’s nationally known accountability system.

The state’s legislature, which has also created its own set of education policies, has long been dominated by Republicans. But in 2015, the state elected a Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards.

ESSA, unlike prior federal education law, requires that the legislature and governor be “meaningfully consulted” about changes to things such as the state’s accountability system or teacher evaluations and that the governor have 30 days to sign off on states’ proposed ESSA plans. The state’s superintendent, John White, supports school choice and test-dependent accountability, ast year began devising his own ESSA task force, made up of teachers, administrators, advocacy groups, and parents.

But then, halfway through the process, teachers and administrators told the governor that they didn’t agree with the direction of BESE’s task force and asked that Edwards appoint an ESSA task force of his own, which he proceeded to do.

Now that task force has come out with its own plan, and it’s at odds with several items in BESE’s proposed plan, including teacher evaluations, the state’s accountability plan, and even whether the overall plan will go into place this fall or in the fall of 2018.

The board’s ESSA task force, meanwhile, has been circulating an ESSA draft of its own.

One of the most contentious items is the recommendation by the governor-appointed panel that the state axe its school letter grade accountability system. The board’s ESSA panel only recommends a change to the formula the state uses to come up with the grades.

It’s not clear what will happen next. It’s usually state boards that turn in ESSA plans to the federal government, though any changes to state law will require accompanying legislation. Any new funding the Louisiana education department might require to execute its ESSA plan will require legislative approval.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.