In a letter to Education Secretary Betsy Devos, US Senator Patty Murray and United States Representative Bobby Scott, expressed their concern with a change to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) concerning public review of each state’s ESSA plans. The ranking Democrats on their respective congressional education committees warned the change in policy violates the law and could lead to lack of transparency. This change in policy affects the way in which the US Department of Education responds to discrepancies in state education plans.
In their letter they shared, “We are deeply concerned that this decision will result in inconsistent treatment of state agencies, leading to flawed implementation of our nation’s education law and harm our nation’s most vulnerable students.”
The letter is in reference to the following section of the ESSA:
(5) PUBLIC REVIEW.– All written communications, feedback, and notifications under this subsection shall be conducted in a manner that is transparent and immediately made available to the public on the Department’s website, including– (A) plans submitted or resubmitted by a State; (B) peer-review guidance, notes, and comments and the names of the peer reviewers (once the peer reviewers have completed their work); (C) State plan determinations by the Secretary, including approvals or disapprovals; and (D) notices and transcripts of hearings under this section.
The US Department of Education says the purpose of these calls is to allow states to address concerns over state plans informally. However, concern from lawmakers stems from the fact that these informal conversations are conducted in a manner that the public is not privy to the information shared on these calls. For many, this is troubling as it may not be known what feedback states have already received in response to their plans so far. As such, congressional education committees may also not have been apprised of these replies.
The letter from Murray and Scott goes on to say, “Changing the rules after the process is already well underway does just the opposite. Doing so is unfair to state agencies and imposes a highly subjective standard in plan review.”
Essentially, this handling of ESSA with regard to public review does not allow for a systematic and unbiased approach to communicating concerns and ensuring transparency. Further, this change “limits public knowledge” about ESSA-related agreements between states and the US Department of Education.