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Ed. Dept. Watchdog to Look Into DeVos Team's Oversight of ESSA, Dismissal of Civil Rights Complaints

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The U.S. Department of Education's internal watchdog—the Office of the Inspector General—will be looking at the agency's process for dismissing civil rights complaints. The plan was revealed in an agenda for 2019 posted on the inspector general's website.

The department recently revamped its process for investigating potential civil rights violations. The Obama administration looked at every complaint for potential evidence of systemic discrimination. The Trump team is only planning to do that in certain cases.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and company have said that this will help resolve more cases quickly, but civil rights groups are worried that investigators may miss the bigger picture.

And the OIG will examine the department's oversight of state accountability systems developed under the Every Student Succeeds Act, paying special attention to how schools are identified and improvement plans. Democrats in Congress, including Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the incoming chairman of the House education committee, worry that some states aren't taking the performance of vulnerable students into account in flagging schools for improvement.

The OIG is also planning to determine whether the Education Department is properly overseeing the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, the $1.1 billion block grant created under ESSA.

The program is relatively new and can be used for a wide variety of purposes, including school safety, counseling, arts education, and college- and career-readiness.

In addition, the inspector general will be looking into how the department is managing $2.5 billion in disaster recovery funds, which were allocated to help K-12 school districts and collages affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, or Maria, or the 2017 California wildfires.

How does the OIG decide what to investigate? The agency receives suggestions from department leaders, the Office of Management and Budget, and members of Congress.

Photo: Swikar Patel for Education Week

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