Advocacy Update: ESSA Signed Into Law—What Now?

Principals must be a part of the process of implementing this new and significant law.

By Kelly D. Pollitt
December 2015, Volume 39, Issue 4

This past week marked a new era in our nation’s history in education as President Barack Obama signed the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) into law to put an end to the No Child Left Behind Act—the notorious federal policy that has dogged schools for over a decade. Over the past year, congressional leaders have been working to rewrite the law in a bipartisan fashion—a process that has been increasingly rare in Washington—and the bill’s fate was uncertain until three weeks ago, when lawmakers struck a deal and a final conference report moved swiftly through Congress. To see what’s in this overhaul of nation’s largest federal education law, principals can review a summary of the 1,000+ page bill prepared by NAESP. As the holidays are here and everyone takes time to digest the next generation of education reform, many educators are wondering: What now?

ESSA dramatically shifts authority of our nation’s system of public education back to state and local control. While the first order of business with any new law requires guidance and regulations for implementation, we know that states and districts are already beginning to discuss transition issues on major areas of change, such as how states will adjust to new requirements in accountability, how they will rework assessment systems, and whether they will continue requiring teacher evaluation (the new law makes this an “option” as opposed to a requirement in states that are operating under waivers). While these conversations are likely moving, there is a good chance the U.S. Department of Education (ED) will announce its schedule for any guidance or regulations according to what is spelled out in the law.


Timeline Implications
To begin, principals should note, however, that the law includes specific dates for overall implementation that will guide the process over the next year. The level of activity on regulations will vary over the coming months, but the following dates and actions are prescribed in ESSA:

Waivers. The conference report specifies that statewide ESEA waivers are null and void on or after August 1, 2016.

Title I Accountability. Current adequate yearly progress (AYP) requirements are effective through August 1, 2016. The law allows for an 18-month transition period for states to align their accountability systems to the new requirements and begin identifying schools in need of interventions. The new accountability system will take effect at the beginning of the 2017–2018 school year. Schools and local educational agencies that have been identified for school improvement, corrective action, restructuring under current law or as priority or focus schools under ESEA waivers must continue to implement any interventions required under those authorities either until their state has a new Title I plan approved, or the accountability provisions go into effect (after August 1, 2016). Lastly, the conference report’s state assessment requirements and the remainder of Section 1111 requirements are effective on the date of enactment.

Multi-Year Competitive Grants for Programs that Are Reauthorized. If a competitive grant program is reauthorized or substantially similar to a previous program that is in the middle of a multi­year grant cycle, then the funding of the grant will continue for the length of the grant award, subject to annual appropriations.

Multi-Year Competitive Grants for Programs that Are Not Reauthorized. A program that is no longer authorized in the conference report will get only one more year of funding in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 (subject to appropriations) and then it will end, even if there are years left in grants made by the program prior to reauthorization.

Implementation of Other ESEA Provisions. While the law is considered effective upon the date of enactment (December 10, 2015), it also includes special effective dates for the following provisions:

  • Formula Programs. For noncompetitive programs (i.e. formula programs), the effective date is July 1, 2016.
  • Competitive Programs. For competitive programs, the effective date is October 1, 2016 (unless otherwise provided for).
  • Impact Aid. For Impact Aid, the provisions of the Act are effective for appropriations provided in FY2017.

While these dates are important signals for when the new law will be implemented, the law does contain language giving the Secretary of Education authority to provide for an “orderly transition” to the new law.

Other key timeline information to keep in mind: Under current law, ED has one year to issue their final regulations from the date of enactment. ED must do so through a negotiated rulemaking process on Title I standards, assessments and Title I supplement not supplant, at a minimum.

If consensus is not reached through the negotiated rulemaking process, Congress must be provided a copy of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) 15 days prior to it being published and be afforded the ability to comment. When all is said and done, we expect final regulations by October or November 2016. ED may also issue non-regulatory guidance to states and they work to draft plans and sort through transition issues.

Next Steps
As a practicing principal, NAESP recommends that your first order of business in this timeline is to reach out to your state and local leaders to discuss the principal’s role in ESSA implementation. Now more than ever, it is important for principals to tap into their vision of education reform and improvement, key into the new ESSA requirements, and ensure that they are a part of the process of drafting new state and local plans.

NAESP is pleased to have played a role in creating the opportunities that are now afforded to schools under the new law, such as allowing accountability systems to include multiple measures, factoring in elements other than test scores; conducting needs assessments for struggling schools and learning communities facing the greatest challenges; developing clear and concise plans for targeting federal funding in ways that meet the needs of students in the school; and implementing local programs and monitoring their progress in collaboration with educators. NAESP urges all principals to think about which area of the law they would like to influence specifically, and begin to reach out the state and local leaders and ensure that you are included in these critical initial discussions.

Kelly D. Pollitt is NAESP’s Chief Strategist, Policy and Alliances.

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