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House Republicans Move to Scrap Rules on ESSA, Teacher Preparation

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UPDATED

Republican lawmakers in Congress are moving to do away with regulations from the Obama administration regarding accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act and teacher preparation.

The resolutions of disapproval for those two sets of rules were announced Thursday in the House. They were filed under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn regulations set out by executive branch. Senate versions of these resolutions are expected some time next week. 

If these regulations are overturned, President Donald Trump's administration would be prohibited from issuing "substantially similar" regulations on these two issues if there isn't a new law signed. Just what that would mean in practice, however, is unclear. 

"We are sending a signal that we are unhappy with these regs," said Tyler Hernandez, a spokesman for the House education committee. 

If both sets of regulations are overturned, it could have far-reaching consequences. States have been crafting their ESSA accountability plans for several months, and were doing so even before Trump won the election, with the Obama ESSA accountability rules in mind. The Trump administration has already paused the final implementation of the accountability rules from Obama's Education Department, but without any regulations at all, states will be in limbo and uncertain how exactly to craft state plans that pass muster with a Trump Education Department. 

"Even after Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act with overwhelming bipartisan support, the [Obama] administration insisted on using rules and regulations to unilaterally push its failed education agenda," Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C, the House education committee chairwoman, said in a statement. 

These moves by GOP lawmakers don't immediately end those ESSA accountability and teacher-prep rules. However, they signal that the Republicans are preparing to do away with them—the next step is a vote in the House and Senate on these resolutions, Hernandez said. Each resolution must be voted on individually.

Late last year, Senate Republicans put the accountability and teacher-prep rules on a "hit list" of Obama-era regulations to eliminate. 

Here's a run-down of the House version of the disapproval resolutions:

House Joint Resolution 57 targets the ESSA accountability rules. 

This resolution was introduced by Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., the chairman of the House education subcommittee on K-12 education. 

"[T]he Obama Department of Education worked in a very partisan manner to implement those reforms," Rokita said in a statement. "We are committed to holding both the former and current administrations accountable to students, parents, and local leaders, and this resolution is one way we can do just that."

These regulations cover how states hold certain schools and groups of students accountable under ESSA, among other issues. 

House Joint Resolution 58 targets the teacher-preparation rules.

This resolution was introduced by Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., the chairman of the House education subcommittee on higher education and the workforce.

"[T]he rules finalized by the Department of Education ignore the principles guiding recent bipartisan education reforms and would actually make it more difficult for state and local leaders to help ensure teachers are ready to succeed," Guthrie said in a statement. 

These regulations cover teacher-education programs, and deal with issues like the weight of test scores in evaluating those programs.

The National Governors Association issued a statement in support of these moves against the regulations. "Accountability for education rests with the states, regardless of federal regulations," the NGA said. (The NGA praised Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the Senate education committee chairman, even though the Senate hasn't officially issued resolutions against these regulations yet.)

States are looking for stability to be restored quickly if those ESSA accountability rules from the Obama administration go out the window, Chris Minnich, the executive direct of the Council of Chief State School Officers, told us Wednesday.

UPDATE

However, simply repealing the ESSA regulations and not replacing them endangers the effectiveness of the law, said Liz King, the director of education policy for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which advocates for robust federal oversight of public schools. 

"I believe that Senator Alexander wants the law to be successfully implemented," King said. "I don't see how that happens if the Department of Education exercises zero oversight of what's going on."

And everyone should be worried, King said, if in the absence of regulations the department either rubber-stamps whatever states want to do, or makes decisions through an opaque process like that which prevailed when No Child Left Behind waivers were given to states. 


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