Commissioner Wagner unfazed by federal education policy changes

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The U.S. Senate’s vote to gut a provision in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) aimed at holding schools accountable for student outcomes is unlikely to affect Rhode Island’s implementation of the federal education law, Education Commissioner Ken Wagner said Thursday.

The Senate voted 50-49 to repeal a rule that gave the federal government some oversight regarding how states should identify struggling schools and when intervention policies should be implemented. The change has already cleared the U.S. House of Representatives and President Donald Trump is expected to sign it into law.

“Today’s vote in the U.S. Senate will likely have little impact on Rhode Island’s ESSA Plan,” Wagner said in a statement. “Our plan is closely aligned with the federal law, which remains in effect, and has been informed by feedback from stakeholders across Rhode Island.  We will continue to engage with these partners to craft a state policy that supports students, empowers teachers, and enhances learning.”

Wagner and his aides have been crisscrossing the state seeking stakeholder input on how Rhode Island should implement ESSA, which replaced No Child Left Behind in 2015. The state is expected to submit a final plan to U.S. Department of Education by July.

ESSA won bipartisan support in part because it gave individual states more control over accountability systems as well as student and teacher evaluations, but the Obama administration determined the federal government was still allowed to set ground rules for how schools were rated.

Senate Republicans argued the accountability rule was an overreach, suggesting states should have complete control over how they handle low-performing schools.

U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse voted against the proposal to scrap accountability rules. Whitehouse, who played a key role in crafting ESSA, declined to comment Thursday.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan