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Feds Weigh-In On Montana's No Child Left Behind Replacement

Elsie Arntzen is Montana's superintendent of public instruction.
Montana Legislature

Federal education officials have now weighed in on Montana’s plan to replace the No Child Left Behind law. Public educators here have been waiting on that since submitting the plan in September

More than 20 officials with Montana’s Office of Public Instruction gathered around a conference room table in Helena Wednesday to hear the federal Department of Education’s response to the state’s plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act.

ESSA, for short, is the Obama-era law that replaced No Child Left behind, which was adopted during the George W. Bush administration. It attempts to reduce achievement gaps between students and give states more say in local education.

During an 90 minute phone conference at OPI’s headquarters, federal officials flagged issues with Montana’s ESSA plan.

But, OPI officials describe the federal comments as requests for only “technical changes” to Montana’s education plan - leaving the foundational policy in place.

Montana’s ESSA plan sets a long-term goal of reducing by four percent a year the number of students not proficient in basic school subjects, or not graduating.

State schools superintendent Elsie Arntzen, an elected Republican, congratulated her staff for their work as the meeting closed.

"The federal government is not augmenting our plan.  We are in charge. And I think that is a huge message because that validates all the work that you all have put in over this year, and the year prior."

Although Arntzen says she was confident going in, some in the statewide education community had expressed concern about how much input Montana would be allowed in creating a plan to comply with the newer  federal education law. 

Eric Feaver, President of MEA-MFT, the union representing public employees including teachers, was among those who raised concerns about a possible rejection of the state’s proposal.

On Wednesday, Feaver said he’s glad that Montana, and the rest of the country, is moving away from the more rigid, federal mandated structure of No Child Left Behind.

"When it comes to everyday school curriculum, class room instruction, academic achievement, I think we here in Montana know how to do that and our plan in ESSA is to continue to that."

Superintendent Arntzen’s office will receive official written feedback from the U.S. Department of Education by the end of day Thursday, following the input discussed during Wednesday’s conference.

State officials have until the December 28 to make the required adjustments and submit Montana’s final ESSA plan back to the Education Department.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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