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Key Democrats Press Betsy DeVos on Direction of ESSA Implementation

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Two Democrats who played a key role in crafting the Every Student Succeeds Act—Sen. Patty Murray D-Wash., and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.—sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Friday asking what her plans are for giving states guidance on implementing the law, now that Congress has scrapped a key set of regulations written by the Obama administration.

Among a lot of other things, those regulations, which dealt with the accountability portion of the law, included a "template" or application form for states to use in developing their plans. A number of states have already gotten started using the old template, posting the form on their websites for feedback. But now that Congress has scrapped the regs, that form doesn't apply.

DeVos said earlier this year that she planned to stick to the Obama administration's timetable for implementing the law. That means states can begin turning in their applications on April 3. And she said she'd develop a new template—essentially, a long federal form—for those applications, releasing it on March 13. (That's Monday).  Her new form, she said, would ask states only for information that was "absolutely necessary" for implementing the law.

DeVos said under the new federal template states could also opt to use a template developed with the help of the Council of Chief State School Officers, instead of the department's.

Scott and Murray clearly aren't wild about the notion of multiple application forms. And they have other questions, too.

"We are concerned about the potential chaos that will result in ESSA implementation as a result of the repeal of the ESSA regulation and the introduction of multiple state plan templates," the lawmakers said in a statement. "Now is the time to ensure stability for states as they finalize their state plans to comply with the federal guardrails in the law." 

And Scott and Murray want more information from DeVos about just how she and her staff went about developing this new template. Specifically, they're curious how the Trump team figured out what was "absolutely necessary" to include in the template and whether they reached out to educators and advocates on the new format.

Scott and Murray also bring up another important point: The law requires some buy-in from key groups, including a requirement that governors get 30 days to review ESSA plans before they are submitted to the department. But, this new format is being released just a few weeks before the first batch of plans come due. So how does DeVos plan to handle that issue? You can read the full letter here. 

Why all the fuss about templates? The applications tell states, essentially, what they need to think about in submitting their plans. If something—like requirements to reach out to particular groups to get buy-in on any plan—isn't asked for under the form, it could be up to states to decide whether it's important.  

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