The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing with Department of Education Secretary John B. King June 29 to discuss recent proposals regarding the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). “We want this law to succeed,” Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) stated at the beginning and the end of the hearing. This was the fourth time that the committee has held a hearing with Secretary King about ESSA implementation.
Senators expressed the concerns that many administrators, school districts and families have about the timeline of the implementation process for states to draft their accountability plans. Current plans require implementation of an accountability system for the 2017-2018 school year and identification of underperforming schools the same year.
In response to the current timeline, Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt stated in a letter to the Department that “no state will be able to implement a new system that takes full advantage of ESSA by the 2016-17 school year as implied by USED staff.”
Secretary King told lawmakers that they “are open to comment on the timeline and open to adjusting that timeline.” Their ultimate goal is to guarantee the easy transition into the new accountability system and setting up every school across the nation for success.
Stakeholder engagement was another major concern several senators wanted to clarify with Secretary King. The provision for family engagement in ESSA is a new and much-needed change from previous education law. King addressed the issue by mentioning the resources made available on stakeholder engagement. For instance, there is the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) Stakeholder Engagement Guide, which National PTA and 16 other organizations collaborated on to address the concerns many senators have about how to meaningfully involve stakeholders.
The guide highlights that stakeholder engagement requirements provide an “opportunity for state education agencies (SEAs) to not only connect with current education advocates, but to seek out those who feel disconnected or who have not been historically engaged in a public education dialogue.”
Ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard in the development of the law and its implementation helps create a plan of action that is holistic and addresses the unique concerns of states and districts. National PTA also has other resources regarding stakeholder engagement, all of which can be found at PTA.org/ESSA.
As Chairman Alexander said in his opening and closing remarks, the purpose of these hearings is the same sentiment that the National PTA has expressed since ESSA passed: ensuring the law succeeds. As Secretary King said, ESSA’s goal is to provide a “rich, rigorous and well-rounded education.” Senator Murray added that the law is designed to provide “civil rights and opportunity for every child.”
To ensure a rich, rigorous and well-rounded education, it is up to parents and families to get involved with the process. Many states are currently holding working groups and stakeholder engagement meetings. National PTA strongly urges parents to attend these meetings and voice their opinions and concerns. The best way for children to benefit academically is for parents, educators and policymakers to work together. To learn how you can be engaged in the implementation process, visit PTA.org/ESSA.
Blake Altman is the government affairs intern for National PTA. Lindsay Kubatzky, the government affairs coordinator at National PTA contributed to this article.