Education groups feel disrespected over lack of ESSA participation

A looming deadline to comply with a federal education law has opened an old wound among education groups that say they are “discouraged” “dismayed” and “feel disrespected” after being excluded from drafting the plan.

Karen Echeverria

On Monday, the Idaho Education Association and Idaho School Boards Association sent a letter to Gov. Butch Otter and State Board of Education members. In the letter, the groups’ leaders say they continue to be excluded from drafting Idaho’s state plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

“The importance is obvious to all of us,” ISBA Executive Director Karen Echeverria said in a Thursday interview. “This is the way we are going to operate going forward, and I think it is critically important the State Department of Education has buy-in before we move forward. If we don’t, it will be a disaster.”

Echeverria and IEA President Penni Cyr first outlined their concerns in a November letter to Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra.

While the working groups and committees helping to draft the state plan include some teachers and administrators, Cyr and Echeverria said the larger education organizations were not directly represented or placed on any of the committees.

A third prominent group, the Idaho Association of School Administrators, did not sign the letter. IASA Executive Director Rob Winslow said several principals and superintendents were included in the committees drafting the plan, and said his members have not raised serious concerns with the ESSA plan.

“I can tell you we have had administrators who have stepped up and were involved with what’s happening,” Winslow said.

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Rob Winslow

This spring, and after the original November letter, the SDE began “working with” the education groups. But in their letter, Cyr and Echeverria wrote: “Asking for comment after the plan is written is not synonymous with including our associations during the drafting of the plan.”

“With that said, we felt it was important for you to know that we have been discouraged and dismayed that we were not included at the table for the drafting of this plan,” Echeverria and Cyr wrote. “We also feel disrespected. We don’t feel the State Department of Education’s process met the spirit or intent of the law.”

Idaho’s state plan is due to the U.S. Department of Education in September. As Idaho Education News reported earlier this week, several portions of the plan are unfinished and unresolved. SDE leaders set a goal to publish an updated, sixth draft of the plan Monday, and seek written public comment during the following 30 days.

On Thursday, SDE leaders also briefed State Board members about the state plan during a meeting at North Idaho College. Board members did not reference the letter from stakeholders or ask Ybarra and her SDE team directly about whether major education groups were excluded from the process.

Instead, Karlynn Laraway, the SDE’s director of assessment, announced that department leaders plan to schedule a series of four informational webinars with education groups, beginning next week. The SDE has also reached out to education groups via email, Laraway said.

Penni Cyr

Echeverria told Idaho Education News she has received invitations for the webinars, but feels this plan doesn’t rise to the level of proactive, front-end involvement in drafting the plan.

What Echeverria envisions is an all-hands-on-deck meeting between the SDE and education groups where they go through the plan page by page and can incorporate their own comments and suggestions into the document.

“Then we come up with a plan that everybody feels they have had a part in drafting and that their members can support,” Echeverria said.

During Thursday’s State Board meeting, members praised Ybarra’s team while saying that the job of writing the state’s plan is complicated work.

State Board member Andy Scoggin praised the SDE team for “how much progress has been made” between subsequent drafts of the plan.

State Board member Debbie Critchfield called the task “a big job” and said State Board members and the SDE would “work through any unresolved issues” to bring a final document to the State Board for a vote in August.

“We still have a significant amount of work to d0, but I appreciate the very thorough presentation and answers to our questions,” said State Board member Linda Clark.

Further reading: Click here to read Monday’s ISBA and IEA letter.

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