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Civil Rights Groups To Feds: Your ESSA Rules Must Push Equity, Disruptive or Not

A host of civil rights advocacy groups are urging the U.S. Department of Education to create spending regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act that create clear and tough requirements for districts to show that federal money is supplementing, and not supplanting, state and local funds. 

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Education Trust, and the National Urban League are among the signatories of an April 28 letter in which the groups say that despite the bureacratic difficulties that might arise from new, more robust federal spending rules, ensuring that disadvantaged students receive the resources they are due under the law is more important.

The backdrop for this is the tetchy debate over is "supplement-not-supplant", part of ESSA that was also included in the No Child Left Behind Act. But a team of negotiators from various groups hashing out rules for ESSA ran into a big pothole when they tried to create supplement-not supplant rules. Why? The language the department proposed to negotiators included a requirement that districts prove their distribution of state and local funds to Title I (relatively low-wealth) schools, on a per-pupil basis, be at least equal to the average per-pupil expenditure in non-Title I schools. 

State and local administrators objected vigorously. They said that it would create massive disruptions in district operations by forcing teacher transfers between schools. And they also argued it was a sneaky and improper maneuver by the Education Department to try to equalize per-pupil spending between schools. Ultimately, negotiators failed to reach a consensus on the regulations, so the department is going to go ahead and write its own. 

And the 30 civil rights groups on the letter appear to see a lot to like in the administration's proposed regulations, which were not adopted by the committee. Among other things, they argue that districts not abiding by the proposed language would by definition be in violation of the supplement-not-supplant portion of ESSA. They also say that fair funding between schools does not automatically mean equal funding between them, and that districts would still have enough flexibility to use weighted student-funding formulas and budgets that use staffing levels, among other budgetary techniques. 

"While we appreciate that administrative challenges may arise in the implementation process, we know that the process of moving from inequity to equity or from injustice to justice has never been without disruption," the groups state in the letter.

Read the full letter below:


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