Ed Department Proposes ESSA Spending Rules

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) released proposed rules Wednesday to implement federal funds allocated by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The ED is focusing on the provision that federal funds must supplement, and may not supplant, state and local funds.

The Ed Department wants to ensure that federal funds are additive and do not replace state and local funds in low-income schools, maintaining the longstanding commitment under Title I of ESSA that the country’s highest need students receive the additional financial resources necessary to help them succeed. The proposed regulation would mean up to $2 billion in additional state and local funding for high poverty schools, the ED said in a news release.

While civil rights groups, such as the National Urban League, and Democratic supporters hailed the ED’s proposals, others, including Republicans, teachers’ unions and superintendents, criticized the draft rules as an overreach of executive authority, a waste of precious taxpayers’ funds and a recipe for chaos in the schools.

Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House education committee, called the proposal an unlawful “multibillion dollar regulatory tax” that would “unleash havoc on schools and their students at a time when education leaders should be focused on helping children succeed in the classroom,” according to the Washington Post.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Senate education committee and the original sponsor of ESSA, said he would block the rules from going into effect.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the draft rules represent an “unfunded mandate from Washington” that forces districts to increase spending without showing them how to do so, according to Education Week. Daniel Domenech, executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association, also opposed the proposed regulations.

But Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said in a statement, “Plainly put, our system of funding education is unfair and unwise and this draft rule is an important step toward improving an intolerable status quo. Our states and districts routinely spend less money to educate children facing greater challenges. This rule doesn’t solve this massive problem — no single rule could — but it’s a step in the right direction and brings us closer to a more just education system.”

Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said in a statement, “The Supplement-not-Supplant rule released today by the Department of Education gets the nation one step closer to making an excellent and equitable education a reality for every American child. The National Urban League looks forward to working with the administration to strengthen the final rule to ensure that all schools are funded fairly and every student succeeds.”

A handful of Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) voiced support Wednesday for the ED’s proposals.

The Ed Department, lawmakers, teachers’ unions and other groups have been sparring for months about how funds designated under ESSA will be allocated. This latest set of proposed rules will probably not satisfy those who have been critical of the ED’s original approach of a “negotiated rulemaking process” initiated earlier this year.

For more on this story, read the news release issued Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Education. The Washington Post and Education Week also have detailed synopses of the proposed rules, as well as reactions from critics and supporters.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].