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Civil Rights Groups to King: Don't Forget to Protect Disadvantaged Kids in ESSA

Weeks before the U.S. Department of Education kicks off negotiated rulemaking to hash out key regulations governing the Every Student Succeeds Act, more than 50 civil rights groups—including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights—sent a letter to Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. reminding him that they see a clear federal role in ESSA when it comes to looking out for disadvantaged kids.

Here's a snippet from the letter:

This new law includes serious protections for vulnerable students, and creates important leverage for parents, communities, and advocates to continue their push for equity and accountability for all students. ESSA is clear: The department has the authority and responsibility to issue regulations and guidance, and to provide guidance and technical assistance for the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). [Bolded text included in the letter]

For today's students—especially students of color, students with disabilities, English Learners, Native students, low-income students and other vulnerable students—the challenges are different than they were more than 50 years ago, but the stakes are at least as high. Given the long history of state and local decisions shortchanging vulnerable students, the department cannot shirk from its regulatory and enforcement responsibilities to ensure that the implementation of ESSA eliminates, not perpetuates, persistent inequities in our nation's public education system.

In addition to English-language learners, students in special education and racial minorities, the letter specifically singles out groups of students whose academic performance and access to resources will receive greater scrutiny under ESSA: foster kids and homeless students.

The letter was signed by the Education Trust, MALDEF, Easter Seals, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, among others. You can read the whole thing here

This may be the organizations' way of providing a kind of counterweight to another recent letter from governors, state boards of education, teachers' unions and other groups calling for flexibility to be at the center of ESSA regulation. 

ESSA itself tries to strike a delicate balance between the two approaches—reining in the secretary of education while still calling for accountability for low-performing schools and schools where subgroups of students are falling behind. 

Can the department keep that balance going in ESSA? We'll see! 

Assistant Editor Andrew Ujifusa contributed to this blog post.

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