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Trump sent measure to repeal Obama-era school regulations

by DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS | March 10, 2017 at 3:13 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- The Senate narrowly approved a measure Thursday to scrap regulations outlining how states must carry out a federal law meant to hold schools accountable for the performance of students.

The vote was 50-49, nearly along party lines: Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, split with the GOP to vote against the measure. The House approved the measure last month with almost all Republicans in favor and all members of the Democratic caucus against it. It now goes to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.

The GOP majority in Congress argued that the rules, written by President Barack Obama's Education Department, contradicted congressional intent and amounted to executive overreach. Democrats said that repealing the rules would remove important guardrails meant to ensure that schools are serving poor children, minority groups, English-language learners and students with disabilities.

Democrats also argued that repealing the rules would empower Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' advocacy for private-school vouchers. "It will give Secretary DeVos a blank check to promote her anti-public-school agenda," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

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The chairman of that committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., dismissed that argument as a baseless scare tactic. He said that repealing the rules "does not in any way" give DeVos a pathway to creating a national voucher program, arguing that it in fact restrains her authority by asserting that the executive branch cannot stretch the law to fit its own philosophy.

The regulations were meant to give states details about how they must meet their obligations under the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act, which 85 senators voted to approve in 2015 as the successor to the No Child Left Behind Act. The rules clarify how states should identify struggling schools, lay out a timeline for state intervention at those schools and explain what information must be included on annual school report cards sent to parents and the public.

Arkansas Department of Education leaders have been working for months to prepare a school and school district accountability plan that conforms to the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Johnny Key, Arkansas' education commissioner, said Thursday that the work will continue because state plans for holding schools and districts responsible for student learning and for assisting the schools and districts specifically are required in the law itself.

"We believe the work we are engaged in is fully compliant with the law, so we are going to keep moving forward," Key said. "Until there is further communication from the U.S. Department of Ed, we're going to continue shooting for our September submission date. All of our stakeholder engagement that we are doing now will continue and we'll keep developing it. "

Annette Barnes, Arkansas Education department assistant commissioner for public school accountability, said Thursday that the reliance now on the language of the law without the regulations could make it easier for Arkansas to blend or align its state and federal school accountability plans.

Under the previous No Child Left Behind Act, Arkansas had an accountability plan that met federal specifications that resulted in identifying the lowest-achieving 5 percent of schools as "priority" schools and schools with the largest achievement gaps between groups of students as "focus" schools. At the same time, the state's own accountability plan used different criteria to identify schools in "academic distress."

"They will provide some additional guidance," Barnes predicted about the federal government. "As always, our intent in Arkansas is to be sure we are meeting the needs of our students so they can compete globally. We intend to address federal requirements through our state. We've always wanted to try to align our accountability systems. This is one of those opportunities where we will probably be able to get a whole lot closer to that, now that we are looking at a statute and not the regs that had been in place."

Information for this article was contributed by Emma Brown of The Washington Post and by Cynthia Howell of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

A Section on 03/10/2017

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