Tony Evers may be the governor, but the state agency he led prior to January dragged its feet on an open records request concerning the implementation of a federal education reform program until the agency was dragged into court. Now that legal fight may be ending.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) announced Tuesday that the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the new Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) Carolyn Stanford Taylor have turned over the documents requested concerning the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
“WILL is pleased to announce that as a result of its lawsuit, DPI has turned over hundreds of pages of documents pertaining to the Every Student Succeeds Act,” said Tom Kamenick, deputy counsel at WILL. “In the next week, WILL attorneys will be carefully reviewing them to determine if SPI/DPI are illegally implementing federal law, ESSA, without the proper state authority. Further legal action could be warranted.”
With the surrender of the documents, the court hearing scheduled for today in Dane County Circuit Court was canceled. WILL filed the lawsuit to get the records on February 7 and Dane County Judge Richard Niess immediately ordered DPI to turn the records over to WILL.
The lawsuit followed delays in turning over the records that were first requested last August when Evers was still the Superintendent of Public Instruction and a Democratic candidate for governor. WILL’s request was made to determine whether Evers and DPI breaking state law by unilaterally implementing ESSA. DPI partially denied the request in November, but WILL made the search request parameters narrower. Meanwhile, WILL learned that DPI was sending out preliminary reports about ESSA, the documents WILL was seeking, to school district superintendents that were intended to be “embargoed” – hidden from the public’s view.
“These preliminary reports are not to be shared outside of district staff,” DPI wrote in the December 12 District Assessment Coordinators Digest. “These identifications are not to be shared with your school board, parents, or members of the public.”
“It is deeply disappointing it has taken DPI months to comply with our request,” said Kamenick. “The public has a right to know how DPI is spending their money and whether any laws are being violated. Hopefully next time, DPI will do a better job at promptly responding to open records requests to avoid litigation.”
ESSA is the federal education program that replaced the No Child Left Behind act. Under ESSA, states submit plans to the federal government for how they will tackle low-performing schools in order to receive federal funding for education. Unlike No Child Left Behind, ESSA gives the states the power to create their own plans to comply with the law. As a result, some states have been quite aggressive in the plans they’re submitting to the federal government.
As schools superintendent, Evers drafted Wisconsin’s ESSA plan while claiming the legislature ceded its authority to write the rules. The ESSA plan submitted by Evers to the federal government was far more tepid than education reformers hoped.