SBE still defiant, but looking to compromise with Trump

SBE still defiant, but looking to compromise with Trump

(Calif.) Still facing a potentially costly showdown with federal officials, the California State Board of Education expressed some optimism Wednesday that a compromise could be worked out over the state plan for complying with the Every Child Succeeds Act.

California is one of the last states still without approval from the U.S. Education Secretary for its ESSA plan, which regulators have flagged primarily for failing to meet the department’s interpretation of federal law as it relates to school accountability.

The issue is just one of a long list of public policy disputes that California lawmakers and many of its citizens have with the Trump administration, the tone of which seemed to worsen just this week with the president’s visit.

Perhaps in light of the escalating feud, the state board appeared Wednesday to temper the more strident position they have taken in the past over what some consider an unfounded invasion from the Education Department.

That said, key members of the board resolved not to significantly restructure the newly installed school accountability system just to satisfy federal regulators.

“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 Sue Burr. “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.

While Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Secretary of Education, has approved 35 state ESSA plans to date, California’s plan drew criticism earlier this year by a review committee which said big changes needed to be made.

One issue, perhaps most fundamental, is the department’s position that ESSA requires academic factors be assigned the greatest value among all indicators of student performance. That is, that test scores be more important than other measures such as attendance or discipline.

In a memo to the board released earlier this month, staff at the California Department of Education suggested a series of changes that they believe will help satisfy DeVos and still maintain the state’s new system.

Many of the proposed changes are technical and non-substantial but the board decided to delay acting on the suggestions until a follow-up meeting with DeVos’ staff, which is expected in a few weeks.

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