The education of America’s children is imperative to keep our democracy alive and moving into the future. With the Vice-President casting a tie-breaker confirmation of Betsy DeVos, many are questioning the future of our educational system in the United States. Public education has been a cornerstone of our country for several decades and, despite problems and deficiencies associated with an aging system, it continues to produce adequate results. The Obama adminstration was integral to the direction and creation of the the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
Most know about the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, which was due for reauthorization in 2007 but was not pursued for lack of bipartisan cooperation. NCLB increased standardized testing during the previous administrations that was met with strong resistance and many called for a smaller federal government role in education. The Obama administration called for a major re-write of NCLB in 2014, 7 years after NCLB lapsed, that resulted in the ESSA in 2015. As with NCLB, ESSA is a reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is what establish the increased role of the federal government in public education. Although reauthorizations have modernized many provisions, the core of the American education system sits on top of an Act that is more than 50 years old. An educational system that has continued to put the United States behind many other developed countries.
The provisions within ESSA are provided to the states, by the Department of Education, with specific goals to achieve due on specific dates that correspond to the standard school year, starting with the submission of accountability plans. President Trump has placed a pause on the implementation of ESSA rules and he has indicated he would sign a revocation of any provision(s) in ESSA if it passed the Senate. Adding to the churn, Rep. Thomas Massie introduced H.R.899 on February 7th titled “To terminate the Department of Education”. The text of that bill, the entire text is:
The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018
Upheaval related to ESSA, nomination of DeVos and H.R.899 does not make the elimination of the Education Department any more likely. The bill declines to indicate who or what would assume the $68 billion annual budget of the department or any of the functions is handles: data collection, oversight, civil rights enforcement, student aid and several others. The idea of eliminating the Department of Education with a single sentence bill is just ridiculous. Our government has been infamous in the idea of “symbolic legislation” without any of the responsibility on how it’s accomplished.
States have made decent progress over the past year to start transitioning to ESSA, but according to Chris Minnich, Executive Director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, “unless the U.S. Department of Education acts quickly and provides states with the clarity they need around the implementation of the law” that progress will be for nothing. Most states will not submit their accountability plans until Sept 2017 to then take effect for the 2018-2019 school year. Enforcing federal rules of the ESSA, without the guidance from the Department of Education, would be a massive undertaking for states as it changes the conventional mindset.
H.R.899 is not likely to go any farther than “Introduced” as it would have ramifications to several sections in both the Every Student Succeeds Act and the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. With DeVos as head of the Department of Education, the attack on public education is just getting started.