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Every Student Succeeds Act

Betsy DeVos Tells State Chiefs Group: ‘States Are in the Driver’s Seat’ on ESSA

By Andrew Ujifusa — February 01, 2017 2 min read
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President Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary understands states’ desire for stability as they head into the Every Students Succeeds Act era, according to the executive director of the Council of the Chief State School Officers.

CCSSO leader Chris Minnich also said that after having a conversation with Betsy DeVos on Tuesday, he had the impression that she understood states’ desire to take the lead in decisions about school choice, but did not spell out how she planned to approach school choice as it relates to states.

“We do want flexibility in the states to customize [school choice]. She clearly said to me that the states need to be in control of a lot of these decisions,” Minnich said in a Wednesday interview. “She was a very intensive listener during this part of the conversation. I feel like I got my point across.”

DeVos was approved by the Senate education committee on a party-line vote Tuesday. She’s run into some trouble in the full Senate—on Wednesday, two GOP senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, announced they would not vote for DeVos. They are the only two Republican senators to announce their opposition to DeVos so far.

The Trump administration has hit the pause button on ESSA accountability rules finalized by the Obama administration. DeVos didn’t share with Minnich her views of, or her intentions for, those regulations. But he said DeVos understands that states have to work on a stable timeline in order to be ready for the 2017-18 school year, the first full year of ESSA, and that “states are the ones in the driver’s seat.”

“States are okay with changes to those regulations. But we want it done in a manner that gives us certainty as quickly as possible,” Minnich said. “What I heard from her is the need for states to continue to do their ESSA plans.”

As for the supplement-not-supplant spending rules for ESSA that the Obama folks ultimately decided not to finalize? Minnich said they didn’t talk about the issue, and said it’s become a “secondary conversation.”

The nominee also told Minnich that she believes decisions about standards and assessments are also states’ responsibility. Despite announcing her opposition to the Common Core State Standards after she was nominated by Trump, DeVos told Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., that if she tried to force states to abandon the common core, she would be violating ESSA.

“Overall, I’m pleased with the conversation,” Minnich said. “It represents a good start for the chiefs-federal government interaction.”

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