ESSA Implementation Update – Republican/union alliance opposes school finance equalization & more

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

May 19, 2016


Liz King, Director of Education Policy at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights asks: “When is it ever okay to spend less money on the education of poor children than we spend on the education of non-poor children?”

By Marianne Lombardo

This is the 6th ESSA implementation update in a series.
To see all posts on ESSA implementation, click here.
To see our interactive 50-state ESSA implementation map, click here.


School finance equity. Unions and Republicans on one side, USDOE and the civil rights groups on the other. At issue: assuring actual spending per student in poorer schools is equal to, or greater than, the average spent in non-poor schools. The unions are against equalizing per pupil spending not just via ESSA but on principle (see Randi Weingarten’s statement to the HELP Committee from yesterday’s hearing). Liz King of LCCR asks:”When is it ever okay to spend less money on the education of poor children than we spend on the education of non-poor children?” New America reports here and NPR reports here.

Segregation. Meanwhile, a GAO report finds the number of schools segregated along racial and financial lines more than doubled over a 13-year period ending in the 2013-14 school year. “The new GAO study confirms what we all suspected — schools are more segregated now than in 2000,” Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement.


Alaska. How do you get stakeholder participation across 685,000 square miles, including frozen tundra, when the state budget has a $4 billion deficit? Alaska is looking to technology. Alaska’s “virtual solution” enables a 95% weekly participation rate for the 40 person cross-state ESSA advisory council.

Arizona. Arizona, already not a state known for rigorous accountability, is taking things to a new low. New America reports how the state will now allow districts to select their own 3-8th grade assessments and explains why this is a problem. “If there is an incentive to choose the easiest test, there is also a clear disincentive for districts to administer more difficult assessments because the results will not look as good, further prompting a ‘race to the bottom.’” Arizona’s law also clearly violates the statutory language of ESSA. Stay tuned.

California. The Education Trust-West, Californians Together and Public Advocates say California’s decentralized approach to directing funding and measuring outcomes is not working well for underserved children, particularly dual language learners. Gabe Rose, Chief Strategy Officer for Parent Revolution, speaks to “the state’s continued inability to implement a coherent accountability system,“ stating “We are now three years into this policy without any sort of clear answer for how the state is going to rate the performance of schools and districts, let alone what will happen if a school or district isn’t serving students well.”

Colorado. Implementing NCLB was easy because the feds set the terms, said Colorado’s Education Commissioner Richard Crandall as he embarked on a listening tour to gather broad-based ideas and support for the design of the state’s ESSA strategy. “For years, politicians rightfully grumbled about the federal overreach of the No Child Left Behind Act, the nation’s education law. Well, the time to craft our own policies has arrived. Sometimes you should be careful what you wish for.”

New Mexico. New Mexico has the lowest high school graduation rates in the country and thus faces the biggest challenges of any state under ESSA in overhauling its secondary education system. ESSA requires interventions in high schools with graduation rates below 67 percent. In New Mexico, that’s more than 40 percent of the state’s high schools.

Oregon. We want educators who are passionate about their profession, students told Oregon’s School Superintendent Salam Noor during Reimagine Education’s town hall meeting in Ontario. Providing input to the state’s ESSA work, the community engaged in conversations about what characteristics make a good school, how to measure school success (big emphasis by the students on attendance), and how to ensure all students achieve.

Tennessee. Last week, Tennessee cancelled standardized assessments for this school year amidst chronic testing problems. The state will need to look to other indicators – such as graduation rates and absenteeism – to evaluate its academic performance. Teacher Evaluations, performance designations, and identifying schools in need of intervention will all be put on hold. U.S. Secretary of Education John King: “We have to accept that as part of the switch to computer-based assessments, there will be occasional technical challenges. The most important thing in the testing process itself is that states are diligent about trying to solve the technical issues.”