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Every Student Succeeds Act Under Trump: Five Things to Watch

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The election of Donald Trump to the White House could be a major curve ball for implementation of the nearly year-old Every Student Succeeds Act. ESSA, which was passed in December, won't be fully in place until the 2017-18 school year.

The Obama administration has already proposed regulations to set the course for the law's implementation, which could look very different from here on out.

Here are five questions we're eager to get answers to: 

1. What happens with regulations?  So far the Obama administration has put out four sets of draft regulations on the law, none of them final. It's hard to see big, initial changes to the regulations governing assessments because those were successfully negotiated by a group of educators and advocates. But parts of the accountability regulations have been controversial, including a requirement that states come up with an overall rating for each of their schools. It's possible—and in fact, likely—that Trump and Company may tweak or toss those proposed regulations. Ditto the department's proposed rules on supplement-not-supplant, a wonky funding provision in the law. And when it comes to supplement-not-supplant, the new administration may simply decide not to re-regulate, since the law doesn't require them to. One big downside? Less certainty for states, which are slated to start handing in their plans this spring.

2. What's the bar for approving state plans? ESSA allows the education secretary to give the final yea or nay on state accountability plans, after a group of peer reviewers examines them. The Trump administration will get to name and instruct those peer reviewers, which may sound like an in-the-weeds task, but could have real policy implications. The issues on the table are wonky, sure. (What constitutes "much greater weight" when it comes to academic vs. school quality indicators? What should fly when it comes to state interventions for opt-outs?) But they matter.

Gerard Robinson, a fellow at the American Enterprise told us that, "This is a great time to be a state chief." At the same time, he added, "I don't want state chiefs to think that when they turn those [plans] in that, 'Oh, well, these will just get approved.'"

3. What actually gets enforced? There were a lot of things under the No Child Left Behind Act, ESSA's predecessor, that were part of the law but that the Bush and/or Obama administrations didn't really enforce much. A couple of examples: the requirement that highly qualified teachers be distributed fairly between poor and less-poor schools, or that districts offer free tutoring to students in schools that weren't making progress under the law. 

There could certainly be similar examples of things that are on the books in ESSA, or the Obama administration's regulations for the law, said Vic Klatt, a one-time aide to House Republicans who is now a principal at Penn Hill Group. And since the Trump administration will be the first to enforce ESSA, it could be "easier and less disruptive" for it to simply ignore parts of the law than it would be for another administration down the line, he said.

That doesn't mean there won't be pushback. Liz King, the director of education policy at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said that advocates for historically disadvantaged kids fought for "guardrails" in ESSA, and want Trump's administration to take them seriously. 

"We expect the incoming administration to meaningfully enforce the law," she said. 

4. What happens with those pilot programs? Remember the Innovative Assessment pilot and the Weighted Student Funding formula pilots? The Trump administration gets to decide when to open those up and monitor them. Both pilots, especially the assessment pilot, could lead to big changes when it comes to teaching and learning. It's unclear how seriously a Trump administration would take the "guardrails" in the testing pilot, such as the requirement that the district assessments be comparable to the state assessment, and what, if anything would happen if Trump's team was pretty lax about them.

5. Is there more to be done through legislation? Congressional conservatives had a lot of priorities that didn't make it into ESSA, which is, after all, a bipartisan compromise. High on the list, according to Lindsey Burke, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation? Pushing through Title I portability, which would allow federal dollars to follow students to the public, or potentially private, school of their choice. A provision along those lines was initially in the House version of ESSA, but it got scrapped in a conference committee, in part because the Obama administration wasn't enthusiastic about it. Trump, by contrast, has pitched taking $20 billion in federal money and directing it to school choice programs, including private school choice. He hasn't said where that money would come from, but Title I portability would make sense as a starting point. 


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