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Trump Administration Considering ESSA Spending Guidance, Advocates Say

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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' team is working on guidance to help districts and states puzzle through changes to a key spending rule—known as "supplement-not-supplant"—in the Every Student Succeeds Act, multiple education advocates say.

DeVos and company have made it their mission to "right-size" the department, which they say became too powerful and too intrusive during the Obama and Bush years. For that reason, they've been reluctant to issue new guidance on a variety of topics. Instead, they've focused on getting rid of guidance and regulations from past administrations that they see as duplicative, outdated, or overly prescriptive.

ESSA made some key changes to "supplement not supplant" that says federal Title I funds targeted at low-income students must be in addition to, and not take the place of, state and local spending on K-12. And districts and states have questions about how those changes are supposed to work. 

The Education Department did not respond to multiple requests to confirm that it would be issuing new guidance on ESSA spending. 

Supplement-not-supplant, which has been part of the underlying law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, for decades, went through some changes under ESSA. Specifically, the law no longer requires each individual cost for Title I activities for disadvantaged students to be itemized to show that it's in compliance with the rule. The law only requires districts to show that schools are getting the same state and local funds they would otherwise get without any federal Title I aid.

These changes were originally supposed to take effect two years after ESSA's enactment (which would have been Dec. 2017). But the department extended the deadline to the start of this coming school year (2018-2019). Some districts and states are unclear about how to meet the new requirements. 

This spending provision and ESSA have a sticky political history. The law's Republican authors—particularly Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee—say the new language in ESSA was intended to provide more flexibility to districts to meet the requirements of supplement-not-supplant, or "SnS" as it is known affectionately among K-12 spending geeks.

But, in 2016, the Obama Education Department upset Republicans' applecart by pushing districts to ensure they were spending nearly equal amounts of state and local dollars on Title I schools (those with large shares of students from low-income backgrounds) and non-Title I schools.

The department wrote draft regulations that gave districts a few options for meeting the requirement, all designed to shift more resources to relatively resource-poor schools. State leaders, district administrators, and Republican education leaders in Congress were very unhappy with this approach, while civil rights advocates were huge supporters.

After President Donald Trump's surprise presidential victory, the Obama administration opted not to finalize this draft rule, figuring that Republicans in Congress would toss it through the Congressional Review Act or CRA. (And indeed, that's what happened to the Obama team's ESSA accountability regulations.) 

But that still left districts and states without clear direction on how to proceed with the SnS changes in ESSA. Which is why the department appears to be working on guidance to help clarify the law. Importantly, guidance doesn't have the same force as regulations.

Want more? Check out Andrew's very smart post explaining the ramifications of a world without SnS guidance. And head over to this FutureGen blog post, where Raegan Miller, the researcher director, offers advice on how to handle SnS.

Image: Getty Images

Want to learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act? Here's some useful information:


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