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Michigan Lt. Gov. Says State ESSA Plan Needs a Do-Over for Special Education

Brian Calley, Michigan's lieutenant governor, says the U.S. Department of Education should send back the state's plan created under the Every Student Succeeds Act because it doesn't have high enough standards for students with disabilities.

Michigan is among 12 states that submitted their ESSA plans to the Education Department earlier this month.  

Calley, a Republican and rumored candidate for governor, posted on his Facebook page April 20 a letter he sent to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. In the letter, he noted that the state has set inconsistent standards for the minimum number of students needed for accountability purposes, also known as an "n-size." The number of students needed for subgroup accountability is 30, except for English-language learners, who have an n-size of 10. 

The upshot, Calley said in his letter, is that 61.5 percent of Michigan schools will not have to account for the performance of students with disabilities, because those schools enroll fewer than 30 students in special education. 

"This is an unacceptable outcome that will negatively impact many of our most vulnerable students," Calley wrote. 

He also said that Michigan's ESSA plan needs further refinement to make sure that students with disabilities have access to high-quality instruction, and that there needs to be a public comment period that "results in careful, meaningful discussion and consideration of public feedback."

Calley has a daughter with autism. In 2015, he led a task force that that recommended reforms for the state's special education system. One of the outcomes of the task force was legislation, signed in 2016, that prohibits restraint and seclusion unless a student is a danger to self or others. 

Though Calley says the state should get another shot at revising the plan, Michigan's education department said it should stand. In a statement, the department said that the governor, Rick Snyder, also a Republican, signed off on the plan as submitted. 

"While the federal law did not require the governor's signature, we took that in good faith as the administration supporting the plan submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, knowing that the state legislature still could weigh in on the issue of a possible A-F school accountability system. That was acknowledged in the submitted plan," said department spokesman William DiSessa.

"We expect every school district to have the best interest of each child as its core mission, and that they work diligently to offer a quality education to every child every day with positive outcomes. The ESSA plan that was submitted followed many months of public input, including the Lt. Governor's, and is a balanced reflection of thousands of voices across the education spectrum," DiSessa said.

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