Louisiana's Contentious Education Plan Wins Federal Approval

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana's contested redesign of statewide public school policies, submitted by education officials over the objections of Gov. John Bel Edwards, received federal approval Tuesday.

         U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that she had signed off on Louisiana's proposal under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The 2015 law requires states to spell out how they'll address school ratings, student report cards and other ways to spot and help troubled schools.

         The plan crafted by Louisiana's education department changes the way student performance is measured in the state, toughening the method for calculating public school letter grades. Standardized testing requirements are being reworked to cut down on testing time, while teacher mentoring efforts will be boosted and grants will be steered toward struggling schools that devise improvement plans.

         Superintendent of Education John White called federal approval "another step in a long process of collaboration and hard work by thousands of Louisianans."

         "But today's announcement is less a final step than a starting point. This plan calls for improvement for a generation of school children. It's time to get to work on making that improvement happen," he said in a statement.

         Edwards wanted the submission delayed until mid-September, saying it needed more work. But the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 7-4 to send the outline in April, siding with White.

         The controversy sparked hours of debate at the BESE meeting when the submission was approved. Principals, superintendents and school board members overwhelmingly pushed for delay, while teachers and education groups were split. All three of Edwards' appointees to the board voted against the April submission.

         At the time, Edwards called it an "incomplete vision for Louisiana," saying it needed more debate. He also raised concerns about financing changes and said it included too much required testing and too little detail about how school performance will be judged.

         Edwards didn't comment on the plan's approval Tuesday, with his spokesman saying the Democratic governor's concerns hadn't changed.

         DeVos approved both Louisiana's and Connecticut's plans at the same time, saying in a statement that she was pleased both states "took the opportunity to embrace the flexibility afforded" under federal law.

         White said sending the outline to federal officials earlier than Edwards sought allowed the rollout of the changes in the current school year. He rejected suggestions there'd been too little input, saying the education department held 136 meetings on the plan over the span of about nine months.

         "While much work lies ahead, Louisiana remains solidly on track to fulfilling its objectives of strengthening accountability, supporting schools and teachers, and improving educational opportunities for all Louisiana students," BESE President Gary Jones said in a statement.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte


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