In a victory for students with disabilities, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the Endrew F. case yesterday that “School districts must provide students with disabilities the chance to make meaningful, “appropriately ambitious” progress.” The court sided with Endrew F. and his family, overturning a lower court ruling that was in the school district’s favor that allowed only minimal progress to be expected. NDSC helped write, as well as signed on to, several friend-of-the-court briefs in this case.
Repeal of Regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
On March 9, 2017, Congress repealed regulations developed in 2016 by the U.S. Department of Education to clarify the accountability and state plan provisions for the ESSA law. Congress used authority under the Congressional Review Act to pass a resolution, which not only stopped these regulations from being used but also prevents any substantially similar regulations from being developed until the law is rewritten. The loss of these regulations is a tremendous blow because they provided binding guidance to states on how to implement the law so that its purpose could be achieved: to provide all students a significant opportunity for a fair, equitable and high-quality education and to close achievement gaps. Although we lost, the Senate vote was close, 50-49, and NDSC was proud to see so many advocates working hard on this issue.
It is important to note that the repeal did not impact the requirements in the ESSA law or the ESSA assessment regulations. Now all of us must work hard to ensure that states interpret the accountability provisions in the law in a way that achieves its purpose, even without the regulations to help us.
NDSC and The Advocacy Institute: Analyses of State ESSA Plans
In order to help advocates provide comments on their state plans and to understand the extent to which states are complying with or violating the law in their plans, NDSC and The Advocacy Institute have been analyzing many of the draft state ESSA plans as they have been released. In addition to sharing these analyses with disability organizations at the state level, we have also submitted them directly to the state departments of education. The knowledge we have gained from analyzing these plans will be shared with members of Congress who will be working to ensure that the U.S. Department of Education does not approve plans that violate the law.
Although we will not be able to do an analysis for every state, we believe our work will result in greater scrutiny of all state plans. The analyses are posted here and linked on our NDSC website in the Policy Documents section.
Please note: these analyses have been prepared over the past several months and do not necessarily reflect the significant changes made by the repeal of the ESSA regulations on March 9, 2017. The Illinois analysis is an example of one that was completed after the repeal.
U.S. Department of Education Released New ESSA State Plan Application
On March 13, 2017, the U.S. Department of Education released a new application (template) for states to use when they submit their ESSA plan for federal approval. The template and related materials can be found here. A letter to the states from Secretary DeVos says that the template only asks for what is “absolutely necessary.” Critical pieces of information from the former template do not appear in this one because they are no longer required after the repeal of the regulations. Just because this information is no longer required does not mean it shouldn’t be included for transparency purposes and to ensure high academic expectations. Ask your state to continue to include the information required in the former template in its submission of the new one.
One particularly disconcerting piece that is missing in the new template is the requirement to provide information about how the state meaningfully consulted with stakeholders on the development of the state ESSA plan. This omission is not related to the repeal of the regulations and we believe it results in a misinterpretation of the law. The National Governor’s Association agrees. A recently released statement says “Governors are concerned that the Department’s revised template fails to prioritize proper stakeholder engagement, even though it is a core requirement within the law.” You can share this statement with your Governor to encourage continued stakeholder engagement.
The Administration’s proposed education budget would cut funding by 13% and eliminate funding for key programs such as the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants (Title II of ESSA) which helps states and districts train and hire teachers, and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which finances after-school and extended-learning programs. There are no proposed cuts to special education IDEA funding. However, even level funding is a problem because IDEA has been grossly underfunded since its passage over 40 years ago. It is important to note that it will be Congress that will have the final say on the budget and a lot may change from what has been presented in the Administration’s budget.