Before state education officials sent off Minnesota’s plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act to the federal government, Rep. Sondra Erickson wanted to make sure one important constituency got the chance to hear about it and weigh in. That group was the state’s legislators, who four years earlier had revamped how Minnesota evaluates school performance.
The Legislature dubbed this new system the “World’s Best Workforce,” which focuses on getting students ready for success in the K-12 system (all third-graders reading at grade level, for example) and for life after high school. It measures the progress of each of the state’s schools in four main areas — standardized test scores, the closing of achievement gaps, college and career readiness, and graduation rates.
“What was important to me was that our system for federal accountability [under the ESSA] align with our existing state accountability system,” says Erickson, chair of the Minnesota House Education Innovation Policy Committee. “We don’t want to have teachers, parents and students conflicted.”
To that end, Erickson not only requested a legislative hearing on the ESSA in the 2017 omnibus education bill (HF 2), she included statutory language that the implementation plan be “consistent and aligned, to the extent practicable,” with World’s Best Workforce.
Erickson likes what she learned about the plan, saying it will provide for “continuity and consistency.”
A central tenet of the 2015 federal law was to give states more flexibility on education policy, and the ESSA has not supplanted changes made by states to their accountability systems. Instead, state ESSA plans mostly incorporate some of the new federal requirements (such as accounting for progress made by English language learners and including a measure of “school quality”) into their accountability systems.
In 2013, the Washington State Legislature authorized a civil collection process for unpaid traffic fines, which replaced a requirement that the state suspend a person’s driver’s license for failure to pay a traffic violation.
Under similar legislation enacted in California this year (AB 103), county or court collection programs may not initiate a driver’s license suspension due to failure to pay a fine or penalty, except in the case that an individual fails to appear at a hearing. In addition, the law repealed the authority of the court to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of a person’s failure to pay a fine or bail, with respect to various violations relating to vehicles, thus removing the requirement for the department to suspend a person’s driver’s license upon receipt of that notice.
In the Midwest, a Nebraska law (LB 259) enacted this year allows residents to request a hearing if they believe they do not have the financial ability to pay for a traffic ticket.
In the coming years, the Midwest’s legislators are likely to hear much more about and be asked to act on a range of issues surrounding education accountability.
How well are elementary and middle schools doing on our state’s measures of academic growth among all students, at all learning levels? Are our high schools adequately preparing young people for success in college and/or careers? Do our schools provide for a well-rounded education and a climate conducive to learning? How prevalent is chronic absenteeism among our state’s students, and what policies can reduce it? What type of state interventions have helped turn around the lowest-performing schools? These issues aren’t new, and certainly policymakers have tried to tackle them in the past, but they will get even more attention because of the Every Student Succeeds Act and, in particular, new state plans in this region to implement it.
This 2015 federal law (along with some of the waivers granted to states under its federal predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act) has ushered in a new era in the state-federal relationship on education — more flexibility for states, including new options for evaluating schools and intervening in low-performing ones.
As the Midwest’s legislators look for ways to reduce infant mortality, prevent maternal deaths, and improve long-term outcomes for mothers and children, one policy option is to invest in home visiting.
The idea of bringing preventive services and resources to the place where families live has captured more interest, and funding, during this decade.