LDA Legislative News – December 2015

EssaCapitolHillForget NCLB - it's ESSA Now!

After close to eight years of fits and starts, Congress has finally passed and the president has signed into law the newest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Congress negotiated the House and Senate ESEA bills, which were quite different in scope and approach, to reach the final legislation. Now the U.S. Department of Education takes over, as the regulatory process begins.

ESSA represents significant changes from No Child Left Behind (NCLB), first and foremost by moving accountability to the States for school and student performance. Under NCLB the accountability system flowed from the federal Department of Education, with clearly stated consequences if schools did not make progress in helping students to reach proficiency. The new law eliminates the 100 percent proficiency goal – "adequate yearly progress" (AYP). Instead States must identify the lowest performing five percent of schools, as well as schools with low graduation rates and where subgroups of students, including students with disabilities, continue to underperform. However, States now will determine how to assist struggling schools without federal parameters.

In addition to using test scores for accountability, States may use multiple measures to assess school performance. Additional indicators of student achievement and school quality might include school climate and student engagement or access to and completion of advanced courses for high school students. LDA members will want to be engaged with State departments of education as they determine what indicators they will adopt to measure school success. ESSA retains the NCLB subgroups and adds new data disaggregation on homeless and foster youth and children of military personnel.

As under NCLB, students will be tested annually on State academic standards in math and reading/language arts in grades 3 through 8 and once in grades 10 through 12. A science assessment must be given once in each grade span, 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12. Assessments may also measure individual student growth. States may meet the testing requirements through an annual summative assessment or multiple statewide assessments with results combined for one summative score. The law allows States to use computer-adaptive tests, and those tests may measure student proficiency above or below grade level.

A one percent cap is imposed on participation by students with significant cognitive disabilities on alternative assessments. This is a State rather than local cap, and school districts will have to submit a justification to the State should they want to exceed that cap.

The "highly qualified teacher" (HQT) provision is eliminated from ESSA. Teachers are required to meet State licensure or certification requirements, but any specifics about content knowledge and skills are not in the federal law. The IDEA was amended through ESSA to conform this change, since the IDEA included and expanded the No Child Left Behind HQT language in the 2004 IDEA reauthorization. The amendment to the IDEA brings into law language previously only in IDEA regulation, which allows teachers in alternate certification programs to be special educators.

The U.S. Department of Education has begun its work on the regulatory process. They have issued a Request for Information prior to the development of proposed regulations to gauge where stakeholders believe regulations and non-regulatory guidance would be useful. Regulations and guidance are where school districts get their information about implementation of the statutory language. The Department is also hosting two listening sessions in Washington, DC, and in Los Angeles. Information on all these activities can be accessed at http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-department-education-takes-first-steps-transition-new-law.

Finally, the Department has established an email address – essa.questions@ed.gov – and a website – www.ed.gov/essa. They have asked that questions about the new law be sent through the email address. Department personnel are themselves still working through the 1,061 page statute, so they may not answer every email. However, topics of inquiry will be catalogued and addressed as soon as possible. Resources on implementation of the law, requests for comments, and other information will be available on the new website.

FY 2016 Spending Finalized

Members of Congress have headed home after finalizing the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 omnibus spending bill. Since FY 2016 began on October 1, 2015, the government has been kept open through a Continuing Resolution until final appropriations could be negotiated. The total spending amount in the final package is based on a budget deal that allowed Congress to raise the very tight budget caps for FY 2016 and 2017, giving them more room to adequately fund critical programs.

Overall, education programs received an increase of $1.171 billion. This includes an additional $500 million for Title I and a total of $190 million for the LEARN comprehensive literacy program. Adult basic and literacy education State grants received a $13 million increase.

IDEA Part B State grants will get an additional $415 million. The preschool grants program will grow by $15 million, and the Part C program for infants and toddlers was given a $20 million increase.

Early childhood was a big winner. The Preschool Development Grants were continued at $250 million, and additional increases were provided for early childhood programs under the Department of Health and Human Services. The National Institutes of Health received a significant increase of $2 billion.

The president will release his budget proposal for FY 2017 in early February. The budget cap for FY 2017 is substantially the same as the top line for FY 2016, leaving little room for any increases next year.

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