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Ed. Sec. John King: Supplement-Not-Supplant Must Focus on Equity

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. isn't backing down on the department's stance on how a wonky spending provision—supplement-not-supplant—should play out under the brand new Every Student Succeeds Act, despite a heated debate Monday with GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., an architect of ESSA and the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

"The principle that supplement-not-supplant should ensure that Title I dollars are supplemental is fundamental Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for John-King-education-secretary-hearing-story.jpgto the law and fundamental to the civil rights legacy of the law," King said at a breakfast Tuesday with reporters. He noted that the regulations that irritated Alexander are only a proposal, for a committee of advocates, experts, and educators to consider through a process known as "negotiated rulemaking."

"We're hopeful that the negotiators will reach consensus across issues," he said.

Supplement-not-supplant, King explained, is the piece of ESSA that calls for districts and states to ensure that federal Title I schools money is an extra resource for schools that serve the poorest kids.

"When you look state-by-state, district-by-district, you can see these huge gaps in spending between Title I and non-Title I schools even with radically different percentages of students in poverty," he said. "You can have a school with much lower percentages of poverty actually spending $1,000, $2,000, $3,000 more than a Title I school blocks away. That's clearly inconsistent with supplement-not-supplant. ... We've got to get to a place where supplement-not-supplant has real meaning."

Alexander, however, thinks the department is taking advantage of the fact that supplement-not-supplant has changed under the law to make changes to a totally different Title I test, known as comparability. The wonky back story here

King also highlighted the Democrats on the committee who had his back, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., both of whom were closely aligned with the civil rights community as the bills that became ESSA made their way through the chamber. Warren, for instance, said she voted for ESSA in part because she expected that the department would use its regulatory power to push toward equity for all students.  

And King doesn't necessarily think that all the controversy around supplement-not-supplant means that there's going to be a similar blow-up when the department puts out its accountability regulations later this year.

"I think the goals are shared, they are bipartisan," he said.

He also thinks that state chiefs have taken to heart the mission of equity. "We're on schedule to meet our goal of having the regulations in place. ... We are going to have to grapple with complicated issues. I don't know that everyone's going to agree. We're all focused on trying to get to strong protections for all students., more flexibility for states and attention to closing achievement gaps."

Presidential Politics

On another issue, is King worried that his team will spend a year regulating on the law with an eye towards what it sees as student equity and then a President Donald Trump or a President Ted Cruz will come in and take a wrecking ball to everything they did?

King side-stepped the political punditry but said:

"I'm very focused on the things that we can try to effect between now and January 2017, putting in place the best possible framework for state implementation of the law. I believe that the law reflects not only a consensus but a national consensus around the importance of students graduating college- and career-ready. This work is not just about what happens here, it's about a national consensus around how we move education forward. I'm confident that the groundwork that we are laying today will be something that the next administration can build on."

More on Testing

Arizona has passed a law that would allow districts to offer a menu of tests at the local level, in both high school and elementary school. Will that fly with the department?

King said he wasn't familiar with the Arizona law. But he said that ESSA "is very clear on having comparable state results. Throughout ESSA discussion there was a clear commitment to comparable statewide results so that you can figure out achievement gaps and act on those. That was a fundamental principle for us throughout the ESSA discussions."

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