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Missouri Education Officials Hope 'Skinny' School Improvement Plan Will Satisfy Feds

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

The Missouri State Board of Education on Tuesday advanced what’s been characterized as a “skinny” plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Better known as ESSA, the Obama-era reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act replaces the controversial No Child Left Behind Act as the law governing school accountability. Among other things, ESSA outlines how federal Title I dollars should be distributed to schools with large populations of students living in poverty.

“We have submitted to the government what we believe is important to satisfy them, but we have not gone beyond that purpose,” Chris Neale, assistant commissioner for quality schools at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), told members of the state board. “We’ve been saying for some time now ESSA only drives about 5 percent of school improvement in Missouri.”

Neale says the Missouri School Improvement Plan (MSIP), which is currently under review, is a much more important tool when it comes to student achievement.

“It’s my understanding that Missouri’s history is we receive far more comments when we revise MSIP than when we revise a federal submission,” Neale said when asked if he was surprised that the department didn’t receive more public comments. “My belief is we didn’t do anything that was so controversy-oriented that it raised the ire of large numbers of people.”

DESE received a total of 174 comments on the draft ESSA plan, including several from school librarians advocating for professional development opportunities. Neale said while schools are free to use federal dollars that way if they so choose, the state isn’t going to mandate it.

He called a proposal to develop a statewide math network “intriguing,” but it didn’t make it into the final draft, either.

Neale also clarified that Title I funds earmarked specifically for migratory children can only be used for students whose parents move in search of agricultural work, not highly mobile families in urban school districts.

“Certainly, we could have people in urban areas that are associated with that definition, but what you’re describing is what we call mobility,” Neale said.

Now that it has the state board’s approval, the ESSA draft plan must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education by Sept. 18 with Gov. Eric Greitens’ signature.

Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said her department had kept the governor’s office in the loop and didn’t think securing his signature would be a problem. Even if Greitens refused to sign off on the plan for some reason, federal education officials have said that wouldn’t be a roadblock to submission.

Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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