Feds say they’ll be watching states’ adoption of updated national education law

AtkinsonAs we’ve reported in the past, the states are expecting to assume more autonomy over their practices, particularly in how they evaluate teacher and student performance, following last year’s federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The law, which passed with bipartisan support in Congress,  is a response to widespread criticism that the nation’s previous education law, No Child Left Behind, included rigorous testing requirements that unfairly punished some low-performing schools continually labeled as failing.

Now comes a fascinating piece in Education Week, which reports that federal lawmakers are warning states to tread carefully in their updates, particularly as it relates to education for children with special needs and other marginalized groups.

From Education Week:

Lawmakers on the House education committee had a not-so-subtle message (last week) for states and the U.S. Department of Education as they move to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act: We’ll be watching you.

Republicans on the panel that held the hearing seemed to be trying to cut potential federal overreach off at the pass, making it crystal clear from the get-go that, in their view, the law is aimed at returning key authority over K-12 schools to states and districts.

ESSA “includes more than 50 provisions to keep the Department of Education in check” when it comes to accountability, standards, assessments, and more, said Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees K-12 policy in his opening statement. “Congress promised to restore state and local control over K-12 education, and now it’s our job to ensure that promise is kept.”

Meanwhile, Democrats made it equally clear they’ll be keeping their eye on the department and states to make sure that they don’t use this newfound flexibility to trample on protections for historically overlooked groups of students, such as English-language learners and those in special education.

“The U.S. Department of Education will need to ensure that states are putting children first,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, the top Democrat on the subcommittee.

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State education officials respond to GOP leader’s allegations of misusing funds

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

One day after N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson responded to aggressive questioning by at least one Senate Republican about allegations of misusing funds, state education officials explained themselves in a letter to Senate President Phil Berger, Policy Watch has learned.

In the letter, State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey and Atkinson stated that they used state funds budgeted for literacy programs exactly as they were ordered, extending increased literacy programs to approximately 487,000 students in the state.

WRAL reported Monday that Berger accused DPI leaders of agreeing during a “secret meeting” to use literacy funds to head off personnel losses ordered by legislators in 2012’s Excellent Public Schools Act.

The state’s official response included a summary of  $2.5 million in position cuts at DPI as a result of state budgeting.

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DPI explains looming shift of education powers from federal government to the states

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

Although it was overshadowed by Sen. Chad Barefoot’s angst over unverified reports of the misuse of state education dollars, Tuesday’s session of the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee included an explanation of last year’s federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

That legislation, passed with support from both Democrats and Republicans, is intended to update the widely criticized No Child Left Behind, the federal government’s 2001 rewrite of the nation’s governing public education law to increase school accountability.

The complicated new ESSA, to put it broadly, shifts major powers to the states in how they assess school success, responding to widespread criticisms that No Child Left Behind’s rigorous testing requirements unfairly punished some low-performing schools continually labeled as failing.

And while federal funding and required annual testing will remain, more or less, unaffected, N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson told members of the committee Tuesday that the federal act will give states greater autonomy over how they assess teachers and schools.

“It was long overdue,” said Atkinson.

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Senator grills DPI chief June Atkinson over GOP allegations of misusing funds

N.C. Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Franklin, Wake

N.C. Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Franklin, Wake

One day after the state Senate leader accused North Carolina’s top education administrators of misusing funds budgeted for reading programs, N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson responded to an aggressive line of questioning about the controversy.

Atkinson was discussing the federal government’s update of No Child Left Behind in the legislature’s Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee Tuesday when Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Wake County Republican, began grilling Atkinson over the allegations.

WRAL reported Monday that Senate President Phil Berger, R-Guilford, Rockingham, indicated in a letter that $3.8 million in funding intended for literacy programs had been diverted during “secret meetings” in order to mitigate budget cuts at the department. Although he did not offer proof, Berger accused DPI leaders and the State Board of Education of diverting the money during a closed session, which would violate the state’s open meetings law.

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These two graphs show why June Atkinson is right and Tim Moore is wrong about teacher pay

As reported here on Wednesday by N.C. Policy Watch Education Reporter Billy Ball, North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson is calling for state teachers to receive a 10% raise. Yesterday, in response, House Speaker Tim Moore shot down the idea, saying it was unrealistic.

Here, in two simple graphs, is an explanation of why Atkinson is right and Moore is wrong. The graphs come from Altered State: How 5 years of conservative rule have transformed North Carolina, the special N.C. Policy Watch report released late in 2015.

The first shows how teacher pay in North Carolina has been falling further behind the national average.

Teacher pay 2











The second shows where the overwhelming majority of the massive tax cuts enacted by the Governor and the General Assembly in recent years have gone — i.e. the wealthiest North Carolinians.

Tax cut winners