This week the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held the third of its six expected hearings aimed at monitoring implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The hearing was focused on gathering input from stakeholders on the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) handling of implementation of the new law.
The invited panel of testifiers represented teachers, state and local education agencies, the civil rights community, academia, and parents and other advocates. The vast majority of the hearing was focused on ED’s proposed “supplement not supplant” rule, which is based on language in law that says states cannot use federal money to replace money that would otherwise be spent by the state. (As a reminder, ED turned to a process known as negotiated rulemaking to write rules for the “supplement not supplant” and assessment language in ESSA. The committee assembled for this process was only able to agree on the assessment piece, leaving “supplement not supplant” rule language in the hands of ED. Catch up here.) While the language seeks to provide equity among Title 1 and non-Title 1 schools through a dollar-to-dollar comparison, the panelists cited numerous unintended consequences that could be caused by the proposal as written, such as altering teacher hiring practices and placing burdensome requirements on schools and districts.
The issue of “supplement not supplant” is an ongoing issue that is sure to remain a hot topic in Washington, D.C.. Last week, the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the nonpartisan research and analysis arm of the U.S. Congress, released a report that concluded the language initially proposed by ED could set up a legal challenge based on limited statutory authority. Republican education leaders in Congress were quick to praise the report while ED defended its rule saying it had an obligation to provide clarity where the law is silent. There is agreement from some stakeholders that clarity is needed. A group of over 600 educators teaching in Title 1 schools sent a letter to ED last week that expressed the need for strong and fair regulations on the issue. That letter follows two other recent support letters sent to the department from a group of nine Democratic senators and a host of civil rights groups.
ED also announced yesterday that rule proposals pertaining to the innovative assessments pilot and accountability portions of the new ESSA law would be released in July and June, respectively.
In the other chamber of Congress, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce was focused this week on a bill to reauthorize the national school lunch program. The committee held a mark up Wednesday on H.R. 5003, the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016. The bill was ultimately voted out of committee by a vote of 20-14, but not without debate in and outside of the Capitol. On Tuesday, the day prior to the hearing, a substitute bill was unveiled that included a block grant pilot program for three states. The addition, which was pushed by conservative lawmakers and advocates, has critics concerned it’s a first step in cutting federal funding and participation in school nutrition programs.
While the program does include some positive aspects, such as more money for school breakfasts, it also limits a program that allows some schools to provide universal free meals to students. The Senate Agriculture Committee has already passed its version of the reauthorization bill; the Senate version represents a compromise between advocates, lawmakers, and the administration.
More will unfold on both issues. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these federal topics and more.