By Jacqueline Pitts, The Bottom Line
As Kentucky works to comply with a new federal education law that seeks to return power over testing and accountability back to the states, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) came to Kentucky to describe the opportunities for state-level education that come with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
In his testimony to the Interim Joint Committee on Education meeting Monday, Alexander said ESSA presents rare opportunities for Kentucky and other states including the ability for Kentuckians to come up with a plan on how they spend the education dollars the state receives from the federal government.
Alexander, one of the key architects of the new law, noted that ESSA maintains the federally required testing from 3rd-11th grades but returns the power of how those tests are used back to the state. The law, he said, also allows states to come up with their own plan for how they decide which schools have the most need and how they can be addressed.
In seeking to comply with the new education law, Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt has put together an accountability task force of experts from many different fields — including the business community — to come up with an accountability model.
In an interview with The Bottom Line, Alexander said that is the correct approach to take.
“I think Commissioner Pruitt is doing exactly the right thing. Instead of going out and saying ‘we are going to go out and do it exactly the way I want to do it, he is asking the teachers and the school board members what they think,” Alexander said. “You might get some good advice. And second, they are more likely to do it if the result is something they have some participation in.”
Alexander continued to say that he believes Kentucky is off to a good start and stated he had a meeting with Gov. Matt Bevin on Monday to discuss education.
“Had a good visit with the governor today, he is very interested, he knows it’s his top priority. So if you have a governor, and Senator Stivers and Representative Graham, Senator Wilson, so many different people of different parties are working together, you’re likely to get a good result,” Alexander said.
In the committee meeting, Alexander suggested that Kentucky go ahead and get its plan together and submit it to the federal government by March of next year and get the ball rolling on a new system.
In terms of what role the U.S. Department of Education could play in this process, Alexander discussed the potential regulations the department has proposed, of which he says he has concerns and is working with the department and president to get them in line with the new law.
Alexander said changes that come with the new education law will be felt in the coming years after Kentucky submits its compliance plan and then it is implemented in the following years.
“I think that the biggest change is that people in Kentucky will know that they are in charge of their own schools. And once they are, they will probably going to say ‘well, of course we need higher standards, we want our kids to have jobs, and of course we need good tests so we know how our schools are doing,’” Alexander said. “But they are our tests, they are Kentucky tests, we will figure it out ourselves.”
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