ESEA Renewal Imminent

Posted · Add Comment

After more than a decade, Congress appears to be on the verge of reapproving the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  The legislation would potentially scale back the federal role in education for the first time since the early 1980s.

The compromise, the Every Student Succeeds Act, sailed through a conference committee this month, with just one dissenting vote, from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.  It’s expected to be on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives next week. The measure’s prospects in the Senate are rosy, but it could run into trouble with House conservatives.

The bipartisan agreement seeks to give states new running room on accountability, school turnarounds, teacher evaluation, and more, while maintaining No Child Left Behind’s signature transparency provisions, such as annual testing in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school.  And it calls for states to incorporate new measures into their accountability systems that get at students’ opportunity to learn and postsecondary readiness.

The ESEA deal borrows some provisions from both a bipartisan Senate measure that was approved overwhelmingly over the summer and a GOP-backed House bill that just barely made it over the finish line in July.

Compromise Bill’s Highlights

The proposed revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act approved by a congressional conference committee would reauthorize the law for four years. Dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act, it would significantly scale back the federal footprint in education, while keeping in place some mandates in areas such as tests and funding.


States would:
• Still have to test students in grades 3-8 and once in high school in reading and math.
• Get flexibility to decide how much those tests count for accountability purposes, and be in the driver’s seat on goals for schools and their ratings.
• Be required to incorporate factors other than academics into their accountability systems, such as access to advanced coursework, school climate, and student engagement.
• Have to identify and take action in the bottom 5 percent of schools, and schools where less than two thirds of kids graduate.
• Have to identify and take action in schools where subgroup of students (including English language learners and students in special education, as well as poor and minority students) are struggling. But the number of schools and specific actions aren’t spelled out.

The bill also would:
• Shift accountability for English language learners from Title III (the English Language acquisition section of the ESEA) to Title I.


Testing Flexibility

  • A pilot project would give a handful of states the chance to try out local tests for a limited time, with the permission of the U.S. Department of Education.
    • With state permission, locally determined tests could be used at the high school level for accountability purposes.


Federal Programs

• Dozens of programs would be folded into a block grant for states, including some involving physical education, education technology, and Advanced Placement.
• Some programs would live on as separate line items, including the 21st Century Community Schools program, which pays for after-school programs.

New or Expanded
• An early-childhood education program would enshrine the existing Preschool Development Grants in law and focuses them in part on broadening access to preschool. The program would be housed at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which administers Head Start.
• Creation of a new, evidence-based education research and innovation program that some have described as akin to the Obama administration’s Investing in Innovation program.


School Choice

  • Title I funds for disadvantaged students would remain with the school where the student is enrolled.
    • A pilot project would let dozens of districts combine state, local, and federal funds into a single pot that could create some flexibility in transferring federal funds.



  • No changes to the Title I funding formula funneling federal money to disadvantaged students.
    • Some changes to the Title II formula funding teacher-quality programs, with the revisions expected to be a boon to rural states.
    • A continuation of “maintenance of effort,” which requires states to keep up their own spending at a particular level in order to tap federal Title I funds, with some new flexibility.