Facing Federal Deadline, More ESSA Plans Head to Governors’ Desks

By Daarel Burnette II — September 05, 2017 2 min read
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In the final weeks before 34 states are to give the U.S. Department of Education their accountability plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act, governors are weighing in on what they think about their state’s proposed education agendas.

Already, in states such as Missouri, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, governors have given detailed responses to plans and requested that their education departments either move forward with testing, accountability, and teacher quality initiatives as outlined, or make changes before submitting those plans to the feds.

Governors, under the new federal K-12 law, have 30 days to review state accountability plans before they’re submitted to the federal Education Department. Though there’s a box for governors to sign off on the ESSA templates, their signatures aren’t required. Policy experts, though, say the presence of a governor’s signature signals to the Education Department that there’s widespread political support of a state’s plan.

In the prior round of submissions, this stakeholder provision led to some disputes between legislatures, governors, departments of education, and boards that oversee the departments of education.

In the most extreme case, Louisiana’s Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, then new to office, unsuccessfully attempted to block the submission of that state’s plan after principals and local superintendents complained about several portions of the state’s proposed new acccountability system.

After ESSA devolved federal powers to state lawmakers, there’s been an attempt in recent years by governors and legislatures to consolidate power over especially controversial policy decisions. Indiana’s legislature, for example, passed a bill this year which makes the state education secretary a position appointed by the governor, rather than elected.

The Alabama, Delaware and Hawaii governors have personally handled their states’ entire ESSA-creation process.

No state, it seems, has had as difficult a time getting its ESSA plan to Betsy DeVos’ desk in recent weeks as North Carolina.

That state’s lawmakers have been in legal limbo over the powers of the state superintendent after the legislature in a special session last winter slashed the powers of the state’s board of education. The board sued, and a district judge blocked the law from going into effect until a higher court rules on its constitutionality.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, the state’s legislature overrode a veto of a bill that dictated several provisions of the state’s ESSA plan, including what the state’s accountability system would look like.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, now in his first year, wrote a detailed response to the plan late last month taking issue with several areas of the plan, arguing that it focuses too much on testing.

The state board so far has taken issue with several versions of the plan and will again vote this Thursday on another draft, according to the Durham Herald-Sun.

Elected Superintendent Mark Johnson dismissed the controversy, calling the state’s ESSA plan a “working document.”

“A lot of the ESSA plan is just a way to report data to the federal government,” Johnson told the Herald-Sun. “The intended audience is the bureaucrats at the Department of Education.”

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