CA’s ESSA plan heads for final OK this week

CA’s ESSA plan heads for final OK this week

(Calif.) Unless something unusual happens in the coming days either in Sacramento or Washington D.C., students returning to class in the fall will do so under the direction of a federally approved ESSA plan for California.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, one of the signature pieces of legislation of the Obama administration, provides that each state must submit for approval of the U.S. Secretary of Education a plan for meeting the goals of the new federal law.

After a series of rejections, rewrites and conferences, the U.S. Department of Education notified the California Department of Education late last month that the most recent draft had been approved internally.

With that notice, the ESSA plan will once again go before the California State Board of Education for one final ratification, expected at its regular July meeting later this week.

Once that is done, federal officials have promised that they will recommend that Secretary Betsy DeVos approve the plan.

There is unlikely to be much rejoicing at this news. It was after a breakdown in negotiations in March that defiant members of the state board suggested that California could do without federal education money if it meant having to revise too much a newly-adopted school accountability program.

“I want to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that, once again, we are talking about an overall investment of state money that is ten times what the feds are doing,” said SBE member Sue Burr at the March meeting. “If ever we are in a tail-wagging-the-dog situation, this is it. We have been here before.”

ESSA, which former President Barack Obama signed in 2015, gave back to states authority over most policy and funding decisions. In specific, the law called for states to develop their own methods for measuring school success and what to do about those schools that don’t measure up.

California has spent close to five years rebuilding its accountability system, which relies on multiple measures for judging how well schools are performing.

It is unclear exactly what California officials agreed to change in order to obtain the blessings of D.C., although the multiple-measure accountability system appears to be more or less unaltered.

In a June 11 letter to state schools chief Tom Torlakson, the U.S. Department of Education wanted clarification on a long list of items, including interim performance measures, how chronic absenteeism is calculated and whether the state could annually measure performance of student subgroups.

There were also issues with how the state would intervene with districts that failed to meet performance standards.

Somehow in just a few days, federal regulators were satisfied and, in a letter to Torlakson on June 29, everything was settled.