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New federal ed law offers 'renaissance' of local control

School leaders thirsty for knowledge about the new federal education law-of-the-land drank from the NSBA advocacy firehose in a standing room only clinic Saturday morning at NSBA’s Annual Conference in Boston.

Michael C. Zola, associate executive director for federal advocacy, equated the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed by Congress last November as “a renaissance for local school boards.

“It really is a sea change for public education,” Zola said. “No Child Left Behind cemented a federal role in education. Now as we begin the very early part of implementing ESSA, there are a lot of things you need to know about because you’re going to make the decisions.

“Probably the most significant aspect of this law is that it recognizes that local leadership in public education makes a big difference. Congress made that very clear,” he said.

Zola and other members of his team warned local officials not feel driven by documents, guides, or handbooks bearing a U.S. Department of Education logo.

“That’s another form of rulemaking,” he said, “(but) it’s our responsibility to pay attention and make sure there is no overreach or misapplication of the law.”

Much of the clinic consisted of what NSBA Deputy Associate Executive Director for Federal Advocacy Lucy Gettman joked as “speed dating” about the federal title programs under the law. Here are some highlights of what she and colleagues Deborah Rigsby, Kim Richey, and Amirah Salaam gave attendees:

Title I:

Districts will see the most significant changes relating to this most comprehensive of K-12 programs, especially in shifting from the very tight requirements of NCLB to a local- and state-driven set of standards and assessments, beginning in the 2017-18 school year.

States and districts must still test at least 95 percent of student populations and an equal percentage of each student subgroup. However, the AYPs for schools and a goal of students reaching 100 percent proficiency are gone.

District implementation plans must include teachers, principals, and parents, and must identify any “resource inequities” that would impact improvement.

Title II:

ESSA puts a greater emphasis on principal professional development, and creates a 3 percent fund set aside that may be used for principal and other leadership development.

The highly qualified teacher “headache” is eliminated, and teacher evaluations are largely “delinked” from student achievement results.

Title III:

The law creates greater flexibility to use Title I resources to serve English learner students. It also allows states to grant bonuses to districts with large gains in English language proficiency and achievement. Separate academic measures for the nation’s 5 million EL students are eliminated.

Title IV:

A new grant program for “student support and academic enrichment” may be used for a variety of areas including school climate, health and safety, technology, and training.

Title V:

ESSA allows greater “transferability” of funding, especially resources once only available to rural school districts, which are now available to all systems.

Title VI:

The law emphasizes greater collaboration on using resources between districts and tribes or other organizations representing American Indian, Alaskan Native, or other cultural education consortiums. If the districts don’t apply to use allocated resources, those groups may apply directly for the funding.

Title VII:

Districts with federal properties within their borders – for which they receive in lieu of taxes payments – have two new aids – a “hold harmless” provision against a reduction of more than 20 percent in a single year and a requirement of “timely payment” of those funds.

Title VIII:

Several times, team members pointed to ESSA language stating that the federal government “does not have authority to mandate, direct, control, coerce or exercise any discretion” over implementation of the law by states and districts. NSBA fought for language that specifically limits federal officials from actions outside the scope of their authority, including expenditure of funds.

TITLE IX:

This section now includes language expressing a “sense of Congress” on the First Amendment rights of students speaking at school.

NSBA has produced a guide to ESSA and major areas of impact for schools. It may be purchased in the conference bookstore. The clinic PowerPoint presentation is available on the conference mobile app.

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