Lawmakers Debate Degree of Stakeholder Input Needed on State’s ESSA Accountability Plan

Yesterday (April 20), the Assembly Education Committee held a public hearing on a bill (Assembly Bill 233) that would prohibit the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) from submitting the state plan required under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to the U.S. Department of Education without first responding to any objections submitted to DPI by the Assembly Committee on Education and the Senate Committee on Education.

The bill illustrates one of the tensions in implementing the new federal law.

As a condition of receiving certain federal funding (e.g., Title I, Title II and Title IV funding), the ESSA requires each state to submit a state accountability plan to the federal Department of Education. The ESSA also requires states to consult with stakeholders, including local school board members, in the development of State accountability plans.

Just what degree of stakeholder engagement is required under the ESSA, including by lawmakers, has been a source of controversy and debate as demonstrated by the introduction of AB 233.

When Congress replaced the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), one of its goals was to give states greater flexibility in meet federal accountability requirements.

Under the ESSA, states will no longer have to demonstrate adequate yearly progress on state assessments or show that all students are proficient on those tests by a certain year. Instead, states will set their own goals for student achievement and will be able to move beyond reading and math test scores in measuring student and school performance. The ESSA also gives states and districts nearly total control over how they design improvement plans for struggling schools.

States must submit their accountability plans to the U.S. Department of Education for approval and were given two deadlines for submitting those plans: either April 3 or September 18. Wisconsin has opted to submit its plan by the later September date (see list). A dozen states and the District of Columbia submitted their plans earlier this month (see list). (More details on the contents of the plans submitted so far will be the subject of an upcoming post.)

The ESSA law specifically requires that each state’s accountability plan must be submitted to the governor for his or her review at least 30 days prior to the deadline for submission.  However, in keeping with its theme of flexibility, the ESSA it is not specific about what states must do to ensure stakeholders’ views are taken into account, leaving that up to the states.

The former Obama administration took the position that meaningful stakeholder engagement starts at the beginning of the process, when initial planning is getting started; not at the end, when a plan is nearing completion.

Although the Trump administration has thus far put a premium on local and state control, guidance documents released by the U.S. Department of Education on March 13 largely ignored requirements in the law for States to consult with stakeholders, including local school board members, in the development of State plans. While the Department acknowledges the legal obligation of States to consult with stakeholders in the development of State plans, it stopped short of adding a requirement that a State demonstrate how it engaged with stakeholders.

A subsequent Dear Colleague Letter (another guidance document) issued by the   Department on April 10 stated that while “State is not required to include in its consolidation plan” how it “met [those] consultation requirements, . . . a State may include supplemental information such as its efforts to consult with and engage stakeholders in compliance with the requirements of the law.”

The DPI indicates it will be releasing a draft of the state accountability plan on Friday (April 28).  The WASB, through Executive Director John Ashley, has been part of the 30-member State Superintendent’s Equity in ESSA Stakeholders Council. The council includes a representative from the governor’s office and four legislators. The WASB has provided input into the development of the state accountability plan through that council.  If your board has concerns about the draft plan, please share them with the WASB.

Wisconsin State Journal (AP) coverage

Wisconsin Lawyer Magazine article on “School Accountability After ‘No Child Left Behind’”