Montana’s plan to comply with the federal replacement for No Child Left Behind received Governor Steve Bullock’s approval Tuesday, but it’s still unclear if it will be accepted by the U.S. Department of Education.
Bullock, a Democrat, signed off on the state’s plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act on Tuesday. It attempts to reduce the achievement gap between students and give states more say in local education.
OPI Superintendent Elsie Arntzen, a Republican, says the plan received input from teacher groups, school counselors, and administrators about how to raise academic goals in the state.
"We can do better and we must do better," Arntzen says."There is urgency with this state plan. I am very honored that we get to put this forward."
Arntzen says after receiving public comment on the plan OPI added more flexibility for how each school can determine how it will meet academic standards.
OPI also accepted most of the governor’s minor suggestions to add family engagement, preschool content and accreditation in the list of standards adopted by the Board of Public Education in the plan.
Eric Feaver, the President of MEA-MFT, the state’s largest labor union, which represents public employees including state teachers, says he’s pleased with the plan. Although, he says there’s a chance the U.S. Department of Labor could reject it, as it has done with other state plans, if the federal government does not see the outlined goals as ambitious enough.
"I think what Montana has put forward, that the superintendent and education groups agreed to, the governor signed off on is as realistic as we can be, yet even it may be too optimistic. What the Department of Education will say about our plan has yet to be seen. They may conclude we are not aggressive enough in what we are expecting our students to be able to do."
Superintendent Arntzen says it is possible Montana’s education plan could be rejected. If that happens, she says Montana will push back.
"This is a Montana plan and if the federal government says that we need to do something different, and there is a mandate, I have a record myself of saying 'no.' And I believe that the stakeholders also agree that that’s what we should do. As ambitious the goals are it’s challenging because this focus on the state plan is on the groups of students who have traditionally, over many many many years, have not gotten to their full potential."
Montana’s ESSA plan calls for students who have historically scored the lowest in tests – students in poor families, English learners, kids with disabilities, and Native Americans – to show the greatest academic improvement over the next six years. The state has also set a goal to have nearly 90 percent of all high schools students graduate.
Montana education officials expect to submit their plan the U.S. Department of Education plan by September 14.