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House Votes to Overturn ESSA Accountability, Teacher-Prep Rules

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The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to overturn regulations crafted by the Obama administration for accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act, as well as those for teacher-preparation programs. 

If the ESSA resolution overturning the accountability rules is successful, it could have far-reaching consequences for the U.S. Department of Education, state officials, and local district leaders. These rules address school ratings, the timeline for identifying and intervening in struggling schools, indicators of school quality that go beyond test scores, and other issues. A Senate resolution to overturn the ESSA accountability rules is also expected in the near future. 

The Obama administration released a draft version of the ESSA accountability rules in May, and finalized them in November after considering public comments. That final version granted states more flexibility in some areas than the May draft on issues like summative school ratings. However, last month, the Trump administration hit the pause button on the implementation of these final rules. The final teacher-prep rules were issued last October. 

The Congressional Review Act allows lawmakers to overturn regulations from the executive branch. Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., and Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., introduced the joint resolutions to overturn the two sets of regulations for teacher preparation and ESSA accountability, respectively, last week. The CRA has never been used on education regulations, however, so its unclear how the department would proceed as far as issuing guidance or new regulations. If the regulations are overturned, Congress is barred from issuing "substantially similar" regulations on these two issues before lawmakers reauthorize ESSA and the Higher Education Act, respectively. 

In remarks on Tuesday before the House vote, Rokita said he wanted to overturn the ESSA rules because they ran counter to the spirit of the law itself, which he said is designed to give state and district leaders more power. And he said getting rid of the rules would not impede states from shifting to ESSA as they saw fit. (ESSA kicks in for the 2017-18 school year.)

"Here we have a federal agency inserting itself, making law, not just interpreting it, but making law," Rokita said of the ESSA rules.

Critics, however, have a different idea. On the House floor Tuesday, Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., said ditching the ESSA rules would be damaging and disruptive, not liberating, particularly for states that have worked for over a year to shift to the law. And he stressed that the education secretary's hands would be tied as far as new regulations.

"This resolution would undo all of that state-level work ... creating mass chaos and uncertainty in public education, and destroy the civil rights safeguards that Republicans and Democrats worked so diligently to put in the Every Student Succeeds Act," Polis said.

The National Governors Association and AASA, the School Administrators Association, support Rokita's resolution regarding the ESSA rules. Civil rights groups like the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, however, are opposed to the resolutions from Guthrie and Rokita. 


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