State lawmakers want feds to reject Minnesota’s ESSA plan

State lawmakers want feds to reject Minnesota’s ESSA plan

(Minn.) Partisan politics appears to be driving a call on U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos by state Republican lawmakers to reject Minnesota’s plan for meeting the Every Child Succeeds Act.

In a letter to DeVos late last month, two ranking members of the state Legislature’s lower house said that parts of the state ESSA plan “threaten the delivery of innovative instruction in Minnesota.”

Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie complained that the proposed method the state would use to identify low-performing schools and how intervention would be carried out is not clearly explained in the plan.

“We just want to make sure that this is a plan that everyone understands what the goals are (and) what will happen if you're identified as a school that is not providing the education we all expect,” Loon said in an interview with reporters.

Under ESSA each state is required to prepare a plan for fulfilling the new national goals for enhancing educational equity and improve student performance. The law requires that states develop the plans in consultation with stakeholder groups and have the proposal reviewed by a panel of practitioners, meaning teachers and principals, charter school leaders, and specialized instructional support personnel, among others.

ESSA gives states a lot of flexibility but does require that each design its own accountability system for evaluating how schools are doing, specifically as it relates to subgroups and English learners.

After initially directing her staff to take an aggressive review of the incoming ESSA plans, DeVos has barely raised an eyebrow in approving all of them.

Delaware’s plan, one of the first to be submitted back in June, drew sharp criticism from the DeVos’ office over the state’s plan to use student performance on Advanced Placement coursework and International Baccalaureate exams as a measurement of college readiness. Department officials sent back the plan saying that student performance could only be measured by math and reading scores.

Although DeVos tried to backtrack from the move by saying the comments were only preliminary, her office sustained a storm of protest from state and school representatives throughout the country. Some Republicans in Congress that were architects of ESSA itself, also told DeVos that she was overstepping her authority.

Since then, the state plans submitted have mostly received a quick approval.

Earlier last month, all 50 states and the District of Columbia had submitted their ESSA plans for review. Thirty-four states sent their plans in just ahead of the October deadline.

Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont—had all been approved.

Colorado, which initially submitted last spring, has asked for extra time. Michigan’s plan is still under review but was told that some changes may need to be made.

The Minnesota plan is the product of the state’s department of education, which is run by Brenda Cassellius, who was appointed to the position by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

Cassellius responded to Erickson and Loon in a letter on Oct. 19, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, saying that she was surprised by their concerns given that the plan was subjected to weeks of public comment before it was submitted to D.C. and neither lawmaker spoke up.

Cassellius also defended the intervention process as being thorough and transparent.

It would seem unlikely that DeVos would interject herself into what would appear to be a dispute between rivals. Although Dayton won a second term as governor in 2014, both houses of the Legislature are controlled by Republicans and the two sides are currently engaged in an increasingly bitter fight over state funding.

Last week a district court struck down Dayton’s veto of the Legislature’s $130 million budget that has been in dispute since spring.