Education Legislation Finds Way to Governor's Desk

March 08, 2002

Nearing the end of the Regular Session of the Legislature, a major education bill has cleared its way through the process. House Bill 4319, which establishes a process for improving education, was passed during the final week of the session.  

The bill touches on a myriad of topics that will, in effect, restructure several areas of public education. Regional Education Service Agencies, the Office of Educational Performance Audits (OEPA), as well as staff development and teacher evaluations are just a few of the areas that were reworked in this measure.  

“This legislation covers many public education issues and it incorporates our goals of providing a high-quality education,” State Schools Superintendent David Stewart said. “It lays the groundwork for us to build on our content standards and ensures accountability.”  

For the first time, legislative intent concerning the standards-based education model was established. Calling for the development and implementation of a system to hold schools accountable for student performance and progress toward obtaining a high quality education, the bill encourages higher student performance and higher accountability standards.  

The measure also brings the state’s Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) under the State Board of Education’s authority and allows the State Superintendent of Schools to appoint their executive directors. RESAs will be responsible for providing technical assistance to “low performing schools and school systems” while at the same time providing high quality, targeted staff development which is designed to enhance students’ progress and performance. RESAs will further be responsible for various technology-related matters, receiving and administering federal and/or state grants and installing and maintaining education related technology equipment and software.  

By November 1, the State Board of Education is required to promulgate a rule establishing RESAs and providing for their effective and efficient administration. The rule must contain certain provisions such as a uniform governance structure, budgeting processes for the RESAs, as well as provisions for them to acquire and hold real property, among others. One exceptional provision to the bill prohibits the State Board from delegating its constitutional authority to the agencies.  

Schools will now receive advance notice of upcoming reviews by OEPA. The OEPA will be required to give five days notice to the county superintendent and school principal of on-site review. However, an exemption is provided if the State Board finds a cause to have an unannounced review.  

So duplication of work does not occur, OEPA cannot conduct a review or inspection nor mandate more stringent compliance measures that are currently in place by other state agencies, such as the State Fire Marshal, School Building Authority or other divisions within the Department of Education.  

In an effort to monitor students’ performance and progress, a “Process for Improving Education Council” is created under the measure. This council, comprised of members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability, the Governor and the Chancellor of the Higher Education Policy Commission, will serve as an information receiving and consultative body. The Process for Improving Education Council will have the authority to meet and consult with the state board and make recommendations on issues related to student, school and school system performance.  

To ensure high quality education continues to be delivered, the statute grants the State Board the authority to intervene again in county systems where they had once intervened within the past five years. If a second intervention is necessary, the bill provides the State Board the authority to delegate additional authority to the state superintendent to conduct hearings or to make personnel changes.  

“After the state gives back local control of a school system, we want them to continue the high standards that were put into place. This provision will hold them accountable, and, if necessary, allows the state to intervene again,” Stewart said.  

The bill revises several areas of staff and professional development. Principals who are employed at seriously impaired schools and principals who are on improvement plans will be required to participate in specialized professional development training. Also, principals who transfer to a school with a significantly different grade configuration will be required to complete specialized training within six months. Further, all principals must complete a principals’ training program every six years.  

Along the lines of professional development, The Center for Professional Development (CPD) is required to provide technical and other assistance and support to regional and local education agencies in identifying and providing high quality professional staff development and training programs. The bill calls for the CPD to “cooperate and coordinate” with higher education institutions in approving credits toward additional endorsements. If it is unable to work out an agreement as to which courses will be approved, the State Board may certify on a course-by-course basis certain professional staff development courses to meet the required criteria.  

“It’s clear that public education remains a top priority in the Legislature. Accountability is established throughout the bill and it rolls out what is expected from our school system,” Stewart said.  

Once the Governor receives the bill, he will have five days to act on it.

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