Alabama is one of only three states that hasn’t yet submitted a plan for how it will comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
Alabama’s ESSA plan, presented to the state board of education by former state superintendent Michael Sentance at their Aug. 23 work session, was originally due Sept. 18.
Ivey told board members in a Sept. 13 letter that the plan they were presented with was “incomplete,” and could not be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education “in good conscience.” Ivey repeated similar statements at the board’s Sept. 14 meeting.
Ivey said she contacted U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and received a 30-day extension, making the plan now due by Oct. 13. Florida, South Carolina and Texas were also granted extensions, but news reports indicate Florida’s plan was submitted Sept. 20.
The plan is required under federal law and will outline Alabama’s efforts to comply with the law and what types of measures will be used to ensure students and schools succeed in meeting education goals set at the state and local level.
Among other things, ESSA requires states to define how they will close the achievement gap between various groups of students, how federal dollars will be spent, how underperforming schools will be identified and supported, and how they will ensure students in poverty are taught by experienced and effective teachers.
ESSA, passed with bipartisan support in December 2015, promised to give states more flexibility than the No Child Left Behind Act, a promise applauded by education leaders.
Though Ivey, who serves as President of the state board of education by virtue of her office, told state board of education members at the Sept. 14 meeting that the extension was granted due to damage from recent hurricanes and flooding, her letter to the state board, dated Sept. 13, made clear she wasn’t satisfied with Alabama’s ESSA plan as written.
In that letter, Ivey writes “improvements are necessary,” and states, “After reviewing this state plan, I believe it is incomplete, and we cannot, in good conscience, submit it to the U.S. Secretary of Education. We have more work to do on the issues I have identified in this letter, and many other shortcomings not specifically addressed here.”
Though work initially began in January 2016 under former Governor Robert Bentley, administrative changes at both the federal and state level threw multiple kinks into the ESSA plan creation process.
Alabama changed Governors once and is on its third state superintendent since that work first began.
Interim state superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson, appointed after Michael Sentance resigned on Sept. 13, said completing the ESSA plan is one of his top priorities while he is serving in the position. Richardson is a former state superintendent, having served in that position from 1995 to 2004.
The draft of the ESSA plan that was put out for public comment on July 31 drew criticism from Alabama education leaders, who pleaded with Ivey for more time to craft a better plan.
In a letter to Ivey and state board of education members, dated Aug. 18, the groups wrote, “[T]he current plan simply is not ready for submittal to the U.S. Department of Education, and…it requires a great deal more input from all stakeholders.”
Those groups included A Plus Education Partnership, the Alabama Association of School Boards, the Alabama Education Association, the Business Education Alliance, the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools, and the School Superintendents of Alabama.
The groups had all been at the table when work first began in 2016 through a statewide ESSA committee created by Bentley in an Executive Order. Early Childhood Secretary Jeana Ross chaired that committee, with seven subcommittees meeting periodically in Montgomery to hash out the details.
The state committee completed its work in November 2016, but with the election on the horizon at that time, and regulations from the U.S. Department of Education still not published, some decisions were left unmade.
Ross presented the committee’s recommendations on key decisions to the state board of education at their November 2016 work session.
The change in the President’s office represented an ideological change in how to interpret ESSA, and guidance issued by former U.S. Secretary of Education John King was mostly scrapped by DeVos in March, adding to the confusion over the level of detail needed in a state’s ESSA plan. The new guidance required less detail.
The agenda for Wednesday’s board of education work session includes a “discussion of the proposed ESSA plan as amended,” but no amendments have been shared publicly.
The board will discuss Richardson’s interim superintendent’s contract at the 10 a.m. meeting, with the work session immediately following.