Today state legislators all over the country are deciding how to comply with ESSA. When the last deadline for submitting proposals arrives this September, we may see a crop of promising plans for the future of K-12 education. Yet in Wisconsin, the planning process has been so flawed that Sen. Alexander’s vision of “innovation” and “ingenuity” seems like a pipe dream.
Wisconsin’s woes have little to do with ESSA itself, which largely delivers on the promise of greater flexibility. To receive funding from Washington, states must submit plans that comply with Titles I through IX of the federal education code. The requirements for these plans are basic: States must maintain a statewide report-card system for public schools, establish methods to measure teacher effectiveness, set policies to reform low-performing schools, and so forth. Each plan must be granted final approval by the Education Department.
The Badger State ought to be taking full advantage of the freedom ESSA provides to enact bold education reform. After all, Wisconsin already has a broad range of educational options, including successful voucher programs and charter schools. Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature have established a strong record on education.
The problem is that Wisconsin’s plan for complying with ESSA has fallen to the state’s education agency, the Department of Public Instruction. Its leader, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, is a notorious opponent of education reform. Mr. Evers’s greatest hits include calling the expansion of school vouchers “morally wrong” and routinely criticizing Gov. Walker’s Act 10 reforms of public-employee unions. It’s worth noting that in opposing the governor, Mr. Evers may have more than the students’ interest in mind. He recently filed paperwork to enter Wisconsin’s 2018 gubernatorial race, hoping to upset Mr. Walker’s shot at a third term.
So far, the department has cleverly worked to avoid any oversight of its ESSA plan by the legislature. To create the illusion of accountability, Mr. Evers formed the Equity in ESSA Council, an advisory board made up of legislators, school administrators, union leaders and education reformers. In truth, however, the council has no power to set the agenda or control the provisions of the state’s ESSA proposal.
Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.
Madison spends far more than most, now nearly $20,000 per student.