CA’s ESSA plan finalized but doesn’t address all questions

CA’s ESSA plan finalized but doesn’t address all questions

(Calif.) The final draft of California’s plan to implement the new federal education law purposefully leaves out key goals and objectives in an effort to ensure state policies will prevail.

The California Board of Education, which will consider the final draft plan at its regular September meeting, has expressed on numerous occasions its intent to emphasis state law and regulations as defined by the Local Control Funding Formula and the Local Control Accountability Plans.

In a memo to the SBE released Tuesday, state school chief Tom Torlakson noted that state law—not the Every Student Succeeds Act—will direct education policy in California.

“To emphasize the importance of LCFF implementation, the SBE has consistently asserted that state priorities and the principles of LCFF should drive ESSA state plan development with opportunities in the ESSA leveraged to assist in accomplishing state goals and objectives,” Torlakson said.

“In keeping with this principle and per SBE direction, California’s State Plan has been written to meet, not exceed, federal requirements,” he explained. “The revised draft reflects further attention to this principle and direction. It describes how California plans to use, manage, and monitor federal funds to support implementation of rigorous state academic standards consistent with California’s existing LCFF approach.”

While it might appear that Torlakson and the Brown administration are waving a red flag at Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, there is some evidence that federal regulators have already signaled their retreat.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education approved the ESSA state plan submitted by Delaware after initially taking a surprisingly aggressive and critical position. The department, among other things, suggested that ESSA only allows student performance to be measured by math and reading scores.

The review drew quick criticism from Congressional leaders who had helped write ESSA and pointed out that the law gave back to the state the freedom and the responsibility for designing their own accountability systems. The law all but eliminated the role of the federal government as arbiter over school performance.

DeVos quickly issued a statement walking back the interpretation of the law, while noting the review wasn’t final.

The closely watched exchange concluded with Delaware officials making some minor tweaks to their plan, which was quietly approved by the department.

Florida, Kentucky and New Jersey also have plans pending before the department that might also generate concerns from federal regulators. But officials in each of those states have already said they will seek a waiver for any interpretation of ESSA by the department that they don’t agree with.

One of the biggest hurdles facing California is aligning the performance indicators in the LCAPs—which are district-based, with those of ESSA—which are school-based.

The issue has most prominently come to light as the state considers how it will identify the lowest performing schools for federal accountability purposes. So far, the board has decided to delay finalizing the system, but will maintain attention on the indicators as defined by the LCAPs.

The Torlakson memo conceded the point. “The State Plan does not describe a number of important activities or aspects of California’s ongoing work to support students and schools within its public education system because they are not responsive to the specific prompts included in the State Plan template,” he said.

The deadline for submitting the ESSA state plan is Sept. 18.