The nation’s governors broadly support the rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, renamed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) because it maintains federal education funding levels while mostly returning control over education policy back to the states.
President Obama recently signed the reauthorization measure that sets Education Dept. (DoEd) policies and spending levels for the next four years. Because it is a reauthorization, funding levels in the bill are subject to final approval by congressional appropriators. In general, ESSA would apply to all federal grants given out after Oct. 1, so most grants would still be under the No Child Left Behind version of the law for the FY 2016 funding year, which end Sept. 30.
The National Governors Assn (NGA), led by Govs. Gary Herbert (R-UT) and Terry McAuliffe (D-VA), applauded the new law. .
“Governors, through NGA, have long been at the forefront of seeking solutions to problems in our nation’s schools,” the NGA said in a letter to DoEd. “ESSA is clear: Education decision-making now rests with states and districts, and the federal role is to inform, not dictate, those decisions.”
NGA was often at odds with DoEd over onerous and unworkable provisions in NCLB. Governors were slightly more favorable to the waivers that DoEd issued from certain provisions in the old law, but still thought it was a case of federal overreach.
The letter did not mention the fact the NCLB was the brainchild of a Republican president or that NGA was an early supporter of the Common Core standards, which are now being rejected as too cumbersome. Interestingly, absent from the ESSA debate was the fact that under the 15 years of NCLB, high school graduation rates have soared to their highest levels ever.
DoEd is now developing guidance to implement the new law. NGA offered the following principles:
- Regulations should reflect congressional intent and be promulgated only for sections of ESSA where states, districts and the federal government agree additional context is necessary;
- As the leader of each state’s education system and the official responsible for creating lifelong learning from early childhood into the workforce, governors should be consulted for substantive input throughout the ESSA implementation process;
- Federal agencies should recognize ESSA’s alignment of federal K-12 policy with state early childhood, postsecondary and workforce policies by enabling state collaboration across these areas;
- Federal ESSA guidance, and regulations when necessary, should focus on meeting the needs of students and empowering educators and parents, allowing governors to prepare students for the high-skill careers of the 21st century and a successful life.
Recognizing each state’s readiness to implement ESSA varies, the federal government should allow a flexible timeline to allow for early implementation or provide additional time for states to make necessary changes to state policy and improvements to state infrastructure, the letter said.
“ESSA is a model for what every federal law should be: a floor, not a ceiling,” the letter said. “States recognize that taking our education system from good to great requires us to innovate and build on this new law to guarantee every child, regardless of background, can succeed.”
Overall, the law sets aside $24.5 billion in FY 2017 discretionary funding for DoEd, which is about 5.3% above the level approved for FY 2015. Title I Grants To Local Educational Agencies, the largest single category of dedicated funding that goes to help disadvantaged students, will see a slight funding boost to $15 billion in FY 2017, up from $14.9 billion in FY 2015. The law also makes some big changes in the way grants are awarded.
For example, the $5 billion School Improvement Grant program, (CFDA Number: 84.377) has been consolidated into the bigger Title I pot, which helps districts educate students in poverty. But, states will be able to set aside up to 7% of all their Title I funds for school turnarounds, up from 4% in current law.
However, the bulk of those dollars will be sent to districts for “innovation,” which could include turnarounds. It will be up to states whether to disburse that money by formula, to everyone, or competitively, as they do now with SIG dollars which amount to about $500 million annually.
The bill creates a $1.6 billion block grant that consolidates about 50 funding programs like those for physical education, Advanced Placement, school counseling, and education technology. Some of these programs haven’t received federal funding in the past several years.
Some programs will live on. The 21st Century Community schools program, which pays for after-school programs and has much support in the NGA will get a slight boost to $1.1 billion.