The month of March has brought around some major news for education. While state leaders have been waiting to hear about the new direction of the Education Department, the changes in Washington have created a shift that will impact how the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will be applied over the next year. In today’s post, we’ve highlighted some of the big changes made since the start of the year, including potential budget challenges that the experts anticipate states and their schools may soon face, as they move forward with implementing ESSA.
Congress Overturned Accountability Rules
In May 2016, the Education Dept. issued proposed regulations to guide state development of their new school accountability plans. On Inauguration Day, two months ago, the White House temporarily postponed the regulations for 60 days. To the surprise of many, Congress used to Congressional Review Act to help overturn the rules of the previous administration. On February 7, the House approved H.J. Res. 57 to prevent the accountability rule from going into effect, and last Thursday, the Senate voted to block the rule as well.
Education Secretary DeVos and Her First Month in Office
Since her first few days in office, Secretary DeVos has been stirring up the debate on education. Both DeVos and Trump have promoted the idea of shifting to a school voucher system, and many are concerned that this could take away funding from public school districts. On the campaign trail, Trump had suggested pushing $20 million to the states to support vouchers, touting the success of of charters. However, economic researchers have recently found facts to the contrary. The latest findings from programs in Louisiana, Ohio, and Indiana showed huge declines in academic achievement. At Tulane University in Louisiana, for instance, students with average scores fell at least 24 percentage points in math and eight points in reading after their first year in the program.
Education Dept. Released New Guidelines for States
Only a few weeks before the first state deadline (April 3), Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released a new template for states to use in developing their accountability plans for ESSA. This comes right after Congress scrapped the Obama administration’s accountability rules under the law, with the biggest adjustment being that states aren’t required to consult with and engage stakeholders (e.g., groups of educators or advocates). It’s unclear how this will impact states, as several of them have already been reaching out to their local communities for feedback on their education plans. There are other areas which are no longer required, such as an explanation of how a state will distribute school resources. States are also not required to use the Trump administration template, but can create a similar application with the help of the Council of Chief School Officers. Some critics argue that allowing multiple applications will complicate peer review, making it difficult to compare state to state.
Federal Budget Cuts Could Create Potential Problems for Schools
Earlier this month, President Trump announced a big push in defense spending, which would mean significantly domestic cuts. While there is still uncertainty about how the cuts will affect education, the proposal includes a $54 billion increase to defense spending, amounting to a 10-percent cut across domestic agencies like the Education Dept. Currently, the education budget is $68.1 billion, with the biggest funds designated for low-income and special-needs students. A 10-percent cut would bring the budget down to $61.3 billion, which is the lowest it’s been since 2008. Other education programs that could take a hit from the administration include Head Start, Preschool Development Grants, and the National School Lunch Program.
And just this Monday, President Trump released a new executive order to seek “recommendations to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs, and to merge functions” from the Education Dept. as well as every other agency within 180 days. These reports could shape administration priorities once budget negotiations are started.
There’s expected to be more guidance from the Education Dept. coming this month, so check back for the latest updates.