Worth Another Look: Planning for ESSA

In January of 2017, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) published a list of the top 10 issues that will be before state legislatures across the nation this year. While we’re just over a quarter of the way through the two-year 2017-2018 legislative session, it’s worth a look to see what our own elected officials are doing to address each of the issues. The next topic up for consideration: planning for ESSA.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law by President Obama in 2015. ESSA replaced No Child Left Behind and reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; it now serves as the law of the land for educational issues and initiatives. The new law gives more powers to the states, by allowing them to develop plans that describe how student progress and achievement will be measured and how to turn around underachieving schools. Once states finalize their plans, the U.S. Department of Education will review them to ensure compliance with ESSA.

On August 2, 2017, Pennsylvania released its proposed consolidated ESSA state plan for ESSA. The plan is broken down into six sections: (1) long-term goals; (2) consultation and performance management; (3) academic assessments; (4) accountability, support and improvement; (5) supporting excellent educators; and (6) supporting all students. These topics align with Pennsylvania’s vision for educational priorities for the future, and underscore the importance of investing in education funding, developing comprehensive measures of school success, offering access to high-quality early childhood education, investing in great teachers and leaders, growth in STEM, expanding postsecondary pathways and support for community schools.

The draft state plan developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education can be read in its entirety here. Formal public comments can be submitted until August 31, 2017.

A bill introduced by Senate Education Committee chairmen Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair) and Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester), S.B. 725, would require that the ESSA plan proposed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education be submitted to the House and Senate Education Committees prior to its submission to the federal government. It would also require legislation to be enacted prior to its implementation. They believe that the legislature has a legal responsibility, derived from the state constitution, to oversee such important changes in the education system and to ensure parents have a voice in the process. The bill was unanimously reported as committed from the Senate Education Committee in May and was rereferred to the Senate Appropriations Committee on third consideration.

This year’s Senate omnibus amendment to the Public School Code in H.B. 178 (Day, R-Lehigh) also addresses this important issue. It would require the Department of Education to develop the state plan in consultation with the Education Committee chairmen and give the committee an opportunity to provide input. The Education Committee would be given at least 15 days to review and comment on the plan before submitting it to the U.S. Department of Education. The Secretary of Education would have to report to the Committees on a quarterly basis regarding the implementation of the state plan and its components. H.B. 178 passed in the Senate in late July and is awaiting consideration by the House of Representatives.

In light of ESSA, the legislature has turned its eye toward issues related to standardized testing. There has been a push in recent years to move away from state standardized tests, especially the Keystone Exams and PSSAs. ESSA gives states flexibility in the testing; a state may permit the use of nationally recognized high school academic assessments in place of the statewide high school assessment.

With the future of both bills being hazy, Pennsylvania’s state plan could be in limbo. Without legislation, the plan would go through the public comment period and then be submitted to the federal government. However, if legislation is enacted, the state legislature could get a crack at the plan before its submission takes place. Stay tuned to this blog and follow us on Twitter @BuchananLobbyists for updates.

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