ESSA and Federal Education Budget Create Discord in Washington, D.C.

Even though healthcare and the Russian investigation capture the daily headlines in Washington, D.C., there is still real work being accomplished, although not without criticism.

Some states that have already submitted their ESSA plans for review now find themselves having to defend them after feedback from the Department of Education. The response from the department has been criticized for being “too strict, confusing, inconsistent or heavy-handed.” [1]

The state of Delaware was recently informed that its ESSA plan was not ambitious enough. Delaware revised its plan but defended the ambitiousness of its long-term goals.

Senator Lamar Alexander (Republican-TN), one of the main architects of ESSA, defended Delaware’s position. “The heart of the entire law…was that it’s the state’s decision to set goals, to decide what “ambitious” means, and to make decisions to help schools that aren’t performing well.”

Alexander, who is chairman of the Senate education committee, said in an interview that ESSA includes “language specifically prohibiting the U.S. secretary of education from telling states what their goals can or can’t be—and that 85 senators voted to approve the new law.”

The senator continued, “not only did we not authorize the Department of Education to define the word ambition, we specifically prohibited it.” As many states will be submitting their ESSA plans in September, Alexander wants to reinforce that ESSA is designed to return control over K-12 policy back to the states to end the federal oversight of the previous era.[2]

Education Budget Update

The FY18 budget that President Trump sent to Congress proposed a 13% decrease in education funding—approximately $9.2 billion. This week House Republicans advanced a funding bill that includes $66 billion for education. It does not include many of the President’s proposed cuts, however it does slash nearly $2.4 billion from the Education Departments FY2017 budget. Most of the decrease would come from eliminating $2 billion from the teacher-training program known as Title II, Part A—the money that districts use for teacher professional development. Although more than 100 Democrats wrote to Appropriations Committee leaders to oppose cuts to teacher training, the House Appropriations Committee voted 28-22 along party lines to approve the spending bill. Republicans went on record as saying that the program had not demonstrated success in improving teacher quality. [3]

Most of the proposed funding is flat with the current year, although the bill provides a $200 million increase for students with special needs and makes smaller cuts to Title I grants for low-income students and the 21st Century Community Learning program than proposed in the administration’s budget.

Since the budget has not yet been approved, it is helpful to remember that this budget is more than a year away. The next federal budget cycle is October 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019.

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[1] Politico’s Morning Education Report, July 20, 2017

[2] Klein, Alyson. Ed. Dept. Official Hasn’t Read ESSA Carefully, Sen. Alexander Says. Education Week, July 13, 2017.

[3] House Committee Rejects Democrats’ Bid for Restore Education Funding, Protect Teacher Training.