ESSA Student Accountability Ruling Canceled by Congress
- By Dian Schaffhauser
Just hours after Betsy DeVos was officially confirmed as education secretary by the United States Senate, a Republican-led Congress dismantled rules laying out how parts of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Higher Education Act (HEA) would be implemented. On Monday, Senate and House Joint Resolution 57 and H.J. 58 were passed along for a vote to the full House by the House Rules Committee.
The two bills were intended to "disapprove" of rules issued regarding K–12 accountability plans and teacher preparation programs.
The final House vote fell along party lines, with Republicans voting for disapproval and Democrats voting to maintain the rules — with one exception. Congressman Patrick Meehan (R-PA) sided with the Democrats specifically on H.J. 57.
Speaking in support of H.J. 57 was the School Superintendents Association. In a statement, Executive Director Daniel Domenech called the rules, issued last year, "unnecessary barriers to state and local leadership."
"The ESSA statute is clear on its intent to return decision-making power to the education professionals, working at the ground level to run our nation’s public schools and implement federal policy," Domenech said. "The primary responsibility for determining educational methods and strategies resides at the state and local levels, consistent with the 1979 U.S. Department of Education Organization Act. States have a constitutional responsibility to establish, fund and support public education. Local school districts have a responsibility to ensure student learning in the context of their state’s constitutional requirements for education."
This stance contradicts Domenech's earlier support for the final accountability regulations. In November the AASA issued a statement calling the final rule on those provisions, "a solid improvement over the initial proposal," which brought the regulations "much more in line with the intent and spirit of the underlying statute."
The members of three minority congressional groups called the disapproval process "another step in the Republican attack on public education and enforcement authority of the Department of Education." The Tri-Caucus, made up of Congressional members from the Asian Pacific American Caucus, the Black Caucus and the Hispanic Caucus, accused the GOP of "ripping apart regulation to guide implementation of the most important equity provisions of our nation’s new K–12 law."
"H.J. Res. 57 would leave key provisions of the law completely unregulated indefinitely, leaving state systems that serve our nation’s more than 50 million public school students in limbo and important civil rights obligations unfulfilled," the Tri-Caucus said. "Faithful implementation of ESSA must honor both the bipartisan intent of Congress and the longstanding civil rights legacy of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This reckless measure flies in the face of both."
Susan Davis (D-CA), who serves on the higher education subcommittee, warned that passage of H.J. 58 would remove "crucial protections that ensure quality and accountability for our teacher preparation programs." These protections, she noted, "reflect and build on local successes and incorporate meaningful feedback from teachers, giving support and guidance to future educators. Behind these safeguards there are students whose interests we must protect."
"The accountability and teacher prep regulations that Republicans eroded are rooted in strong civil rights laws that put the learning needs of all students first," added Jared Polis (D-CO), ranking member of the subcommittee on early childhood, elementary and secondary education. "It is sad that House Republicans chose to put politics before students today. This resolution will cripple the Department of Education, and it will leave states ... blind on how to implement [ESSA]. After months of bipartisan work on a new education law, it’s both disappointing and appalling that Republicans have chosen to move swiftly to undo all the progress we have made."
The measures now go to the Senate for a vote. According to Politico, the White House has said that President Trump would sign both of them.
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.