Trump’s Pause on ESSA Regs Unlikely to Affect State Timelines, Officials Say

By Daarel Burnette II — January 24, 2017 4 min read
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The pause that President Donald Trump placed on the implementation of the accountability regulations under the Every Student Succeeds Act last week is not expected to have a significant effect on the pace at which states develop their plans required under the law, according to state officials and consultants.

On Friday, Trump put a hold on a wide range of Obama administration regulations that had yet to go into effect, delaying implementation of the ESSA accountability rules that were set to go into place on Jan. 30. The delay lasts for up to 60 days, and Congressional Republicans are contemplating whether to scrap the accountability regulations entirely through the rarely used Congressional Review Act.

The accountability portion of state ESSA plans dictate how states deal with how schools are rated, what strategies states use to turn around their most struggling schools, and schools with large portions of students who opt out of standardized tests. The rules also determine when states have to turn in and implement their state plans.

But many states already have been hard at work on ESSA accountability plans, using the law—rather than the regulations—as their template. Under the now-paused regulations, those plans were due to the U.S. Department of Education between April and September and set to go into place by the 2017-18 school year. Education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos hinted in her recent confirmation hearing that she would likely stick with that timeline. So far, more than 14 states have completed drafts, and 17 states say they will turn their plans in by April.

And the delay itself came as no surprise as one presidential administration gave way to another.

“This procedural move was expected and should not cause states delays as they craft consolidated plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act,” said Olympia Meola, a spokeswoman for the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Molly Spearman, the state chief for South Carolina, who supported Trump during the presidential campaign, said she expected the Trump administration to give those rules a thorough review and possibly look for areas where states deserve additional flexibility.

“I’m not really worried about it,” Spearman said.

In Montana, where Elsie Arntzen just took over the superintendent’s office, department officials are reviewing a state plan that former superintendent Denise Juneau approved before leaving office after her unsuccessful bid for Congress.

“Once DeVos, gets into office, we’re going to be looking to see if they make any other changes,” said Dylan Klapmeier, department spokesman. “That’s all we can do right now is wait. But I don’t think it’s going to have a huge impact on state plan.” DeVos is still awaiting Senate confirmation.

The regulations finalized by the Obama administration in November were more flexible than the originally proposed regulations, but state officials still said they went overboard, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate education committee, said they violated parts of the law.

State department of education officials and consultants who work with those officials said most state departments already have written drafts of their plans based on ESSA itself, rather than the series of regulations that outgoing Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. issued in the months leading up to his exit last week.

And with Republicans in control of both the White House and Congress, states no longer are so worried about the federal government rejecting their ESSA plans.

“I think the regulations are more important for the Department of Education than they are for states and their implementation process,” said Mark Elgart, the president and chief executive officer of AdvancEd, a group that’s consulted with education departments to help them create new accountability systems. “The law is what many states have been relying on from the beginning. Those states that did it that way, [Trump’s actions] has no impact on them. They may take a step back and see, is there something we didn’t put in our plan that we would’ve? Or is there something we would’ve done differently? Some say yes, and they’ll go about changing their plan, and some will say no.”

The real fight over ESSA plans, Elgart predicts, will be between state education departments and lawmakers during this year’s legislative sessions. ESSA requires that legislatures are “meaningfully consulted,” and governors have 30 days to review the plans before they are submitted to the federal government.

I’ve written about rifts in several states over ESSA plans that are likely to escalate in the coming weeks. Louisiana, for example, has two starkly different ESSA plans, one coming from the governor’s office and the other from the state education department.

In the last several weeks, state department officials have traveled across their states touting drafts of their state plans and asking for community feedback.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.