Every Student Succeeds Act

Alabama Governor Who Said State’s Schools ‘Suck’ Resigns

By Daarel Burnette II — April 12, 2017 3 min read
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The resignation of Alabama’s Republican Gov. Robert Bentley—who last year charged that the state’s schools “suck” and challenged offended state officials to “do something about it"—leaves the state’s plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act in flux.

The resignation came Monday after Bentley faced campaign and ethics violations and allegations that he used public resources to carry out and conceal an affair with his former top aide.

A task force appointed by Bentley had led the creation of that state’s ESSA plan, but on Tuesday the state Education Department’s ESSA website was taken down. That happened as the new governor, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, a former high school teacher and a Republican, takes over the reins of the state.

In November last year, Bentley charged at an Alabama Association of Regional Councils conference that the state’s education system “sucks.”

He later said, “I don’t use that term very much, but let me tell you. I wanna tell you this: When we are 51st on our NAEP scores in 4th grade math in this state...51st? And we ain’t got but 50 states? That’s pretty sad. And it’s intolerable. And we’re gonna do something about it.”

The state’s education leaders said the statement was demoralizing and inaccurate.

“Alabama’s education system, like every public education system in America, has its fair share of challenges,” said state Superintendent Michael Sentance, who had recently been hired by the state’s board of education to replace longtime state chief Tommy Bice. “When I visit classrooms, I find an enormous commitment by educators and administrators to our children and the future of Alabama. But we have to improve.”

Alabama is one of a handful of states where the governor’s office, rather than the department of education, controls the creation of the state’s accountability plan, which must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education under ESSA.

The governors in Hawaii, Louisiana and Delaware, in addition to Alabama’s, created task forces to create ESSA plans. This approach has had mixed results.

In Louisiana, where the state’s board of education hired the state’s superintendent, John White, the state ended up having two completely different school accountability plans. The state board last week adopted the superintendent’s plan and tasked White to incorporate some of the governor’s suggestions into that plan, a process that is happening now.

Delaware’s governor-appointed task force worked closely with the state’s new governor-appointed superintendent, Susan Bunting, and outgoing Superintendent Steven Godowsky to come up with a plan that was submitted to the Education Department last week. There were debates over the content of the plan, but Delaware has been controlled by one party and, likely because the state superintendent is appointed by the governor, there was little public controversy.

Hawaii’s Democratic Gov. David Ige snubbed that state’s superintendent when he appointed 20 task force members but not Kathryn Matayoshi, who runs the state department that oversees that state’s unitary school district. The department has come up with goals and identified areas of need, but the task force is still in the process of coming up with a “blueprint” for that state’s ESSA plans.

Other states, such as Washington and Wyoming, have allowed the legislature to lead the creation of the ESSA plan, which has its own set of challenges.

Alabama’s department originally said it would turn in its plan this spring, but when I checked in a month ago, an Alabama education department spokeswoman said officials were waiting to see how Congress would handle regulations, which have since been scrapped. The federal department did not list Alabama as a state that planned to turn in its plan this spring, which pushes the deadline to this fall for the state.

Earlier this year, I wrote a story about how political shakeups and rapid turnover of state leadership has affected the creation of ESSA plans.

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