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Some State Leaders Urge Betsy DeVos to Reject Their Own States' ESSA Plans

After failing to convince their own education departments to amend their states' accountability plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act, elected leaders in a handful of states have appealed directly to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to reject those plans. 

The two-year, ESSA-mandated stakeholder-engagement process for putting those plans together was contentious and haphazard in many states, and not all local officials were on board with the final  product. But plans got sent in anyway, and the backlash continues:

  • Pennsylvania's Senate Leader John Eigchelberger sent a letter to DeVos this week arguing that the state's ESSA plan violates Pennsylvania law and didn't include input from the state's Republican-controlled legislature.  "We still believe the proposal dilutes accountability and transparency, is unnecessarily expensive, and squanders the significant opportunity presented by the ESSA to provide our children with an education that prepares them for success," he wrote.    
  • Georgia's Gov. Nathan Deal raised several concerns with that state's plan, refused to sign it and promised to tell Secretary DeVos about his concerns. It's not clear whether he's done so.  
  • Michigan's Lt. Gov. Brian Calley asked for DeVos to send that state's plan back to the state's education department after he took issue with portions of the plan that deal with students with special needs. DeVos has not yet approved the plan.  Lt. Gov. Calley said in a phone interview with me last week that he's in the process of drafting legislation to undercut the state's plan. 

DeVos had urged states to think expansively when it came to crafting their ESSA plans, but it's not clear whether she will reject a plan if a state hasn't decided who should be in charge of the bulk of education policy. (She already has approved Louisiana's state plan which was submitted without Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' signature.)

But an equally important question may be whether state plans, once approved will be able to survive next year's legislative session, right before they're to be implemented. Legislatures have the power to both override state plans with policies of their own and to defund education departments' initiatives. The National Conference of State Legislatures also pointed out to me that local districts will be able to sue state departments if state officials ask local districts to violate state law.


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