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Proposed Legislation in W. Va., Kentucky Could Dramatically Alter ESSA Plans

By Daarel Burnette II — February 27, 2017 2 min read
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Two fast-moving bills aim to alter the look of the accountability plans under the Every Students Succeeds Act for both Kentucky and West Virginia.

This has been a critical year for state legislatures and education as many lawmakers use their sessions to take advantage of newfound flexibilities under ESSA. States with new state superintendents or governors are seeing some of the biggest changes as they look to fulfill campaign promises or break away from their predecessors’ education agendas.

In West Virginia, Jim Justice, the recently elected Democratic governor, last week proposed Senate Bill 420 which would, among other things, pull the state out of the Smarter Balanced testing consortium, limit testing, and get rid of school and district letter grades.

“West Virginia’s students and teachers are being crushed by a boulder of bureaucracy in Charleston,” Justice said, according to local media reports. “Our local school districts and parents have lost control of what’s going on in the classroom. My plan will transform our public schools into a world-class education system that gives all of our students a shot at success and allows our teachers the freedom to teach.”

Superintendent Michael J. Martirano, whose tenure ends this summer, told me that pending the governor’s proposed bill and regulations yet to be sent from the U.S. Department of Education, he’s placed on hold his department making any major decisions regarding the ESSA plan and will likely turn in the plan in September, rather than April, as it had previously intended.

Kentucky’s Senate Bill 1 proposes that local school officials have more say over how to improve low-performing schools, would overhaul the state’s accountability system, and would force the state board to review its use of the Common Core State Standards.

According to the Courier-Journal, Kentucky state Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt said that the state’s ESSA task forces will continue to work on their ESSA plan and to “really let the system be owned by Kentucky.”

Kentucky’s statehouse for the first time in many years is controlled by Republicans. On several policy issues, the governor and legislature are moving at a rapid pace in passing bills this year.

Earlier Thursday, Feb. 23, the House passed a bill that would allow students to attend schools closest to their homes, essentially threatening Louisville’s longstanding desegregation efforts. The legislature also is considering several bills that would expand charter schools and vouchers in the state.

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