ESSA: That’s a Wrap, and We’re Five for Five


The Advocate, December 2015

Dan Domenech, executive director
AASA, The School Superintendents Association

ESSA: That’s a Wrap, and We’re Five for Five

You have no doubt heard that Congress passed—and the President signed into law—the Every Student Succeeds Act. It is the first iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as No Child Left Behind  to reach the President’s desk since December 2001.

ESSA represents a significant improvement over current law. The legislation takes the pendulum of federal overreach and control, and returns it back to state and local education agencies.

ESSA reauthorization was no small feat. The effort started (August 2007) shortly before I did at AASA (July 2008). It plodded along, like the Little Engine That Could, moving forward ever so slowly through Congress, and picked up with a particular vigor early this year. While the politics and momentum seemed against us, the effort persevered. And it is with a happy smile that I can write this post, and detail our advocacy efforts and victories.

As a small sampling of our advocacy effort, I want to highlight what we featured in the letter we sent to the conference committee as they worked to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills, and what the final ESSA included. You can read our priority position in the letter. I use the remainder of this article to detail the final verdict.

  • Accountability: Despite repeated efforts to create AYP 2.0, the final version of ESSA does NOT include 100 percent proficiency, adequate yearly progress or annual measurable objectives. We had compromised and accepted the mandatory identification of and intervention in low-performing schools, but drew a line at mandatory intervention based on sub-group performance targets. Unlike NCLB where subgroup accountability triggered labels of ‘failing’ and triggered intervention, ESSA requires states to establish and report on—but not structure as a trigger—subgroup targets.
  • Portability: There are neither vouchers nor portability in ESSA. As we like to say at AASA, “Public dollars. Public schools. Hard stop.” And, “When the question is vouchers, the answer is no.”
  • Expanded Data Collection: The final Title I reporting includes a reasonable compromise between the House and Senate versions. We were able to push back on the expanded Title IX collection to the extent that NONE of it made it into the final ESSA.
  • Title I Formula: While the formula change we pushed through did not make it in the bill, we did get legislative language requiring Congress to evaluate the existing four Title I formulas, the role of number and percentage weighting, how those weights impact small/large/urban/rural schools, and how the current formulas address/exacerbate the inequitable allocation of dollars in a way that allows larger, less poor districts to receive more Title I money, per pupil, than smaller, poorer schools.
  • Alternate Assessment: ESSA includes a state-level participation cap (1 percent) with language to explicitly forbid the secretary or state to translate the state-level cap into a local cap. IEP teams are free to determine alternate assessment as driven by IDEA, without fear of repercussion. Should a state breach its 1 percent cap, it can pursue a waiver.

As you can see, our advocacy efforts proved fruitful but our work, is far from over. We are now moving full steam ahead with efforts to support ESSA implementation. With expanded authority and flexibility comes increased responsibility. We look forward to supporting our state affiliates and members, and position them as the go-to leader.