On Tuesday, the House Education Committee heard from Dan French (Secretary, Agency of Education) about the staffing requirements for oversight of independent schools. Chairman Conlon opened discussion asking for a basic nuts and bolts description of what is done in this area and who does it. French stated he could come back for a regulatory and statutory dive later. He explained the process has changed since he was appointed in 2018.
Two lead staffers are involved in process; general education quality evaluations (previously they were contracted out), a financial component (requires interagency cooperation), as well as the interdepartmental coordination of reporting (i.e. special education team). The results are compiled in order to make a recommendation to the State Board of Education (SBE).
The pandemic lockdowns resulted in backlog, particularly with regards the site visit components of the evaluation, French anticipates assigning a project manager to address that backlog specifically.
After receiving comments from one of the SBE sub-committees, adjustments are made and then the full board reviews that application. He commented that “99% are approved there was one recently rejected, that is atypical.”
Conlon asked about parallels between public schools and approved independent school standards. French mentioned the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) State Plan where the regulations around quality assurance will apply to independent schools as well.
French also pointed out he can make the argument “there is no quality assurance process for public schools” currently. The ESSA plan is for compliance with federal rules. These rules will be evaluated by the SBE and it will be easier to return for a complete briefing. At that time AOE will be able to provide a “pretty good apples to apples comparison… and they both will be in regulation at that point. and I think that would be useful. to lay them out side-by-side.”
Representative McCann asked about the backlog and site visits and when they would expect an update. French estimated the initial approval process taking about six months for a new school.