State well-positioned on new federal education law, say officials

Action at the federal level created minor complications for the state in complying with the law that replaced No Child Left Behind, but Vermont stands to benefit under the new education act, say state officials.

States have been developing plans to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 by an April deadline. But early this month Congress threw out the rules that were guiding the process for creating state plans, because lawmakers felt they didn’t give states enough flexibility.

That led to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos asking the states in mid-March to submit their information using new templates.

DeVos said the streamlined ESSA templates ask only for descriptions, information, assurances and materials that are “absolutely necessary” for the Department of Education to consider the plans.

“I wanted to ensure that regulations comply with the requirements of the law, provide the State and local flexibility that Congress intended, and do not impose unnecessary burdens,” she wrote to education officials in all the states.
Letter on Every Student Succeeds Act State Templates

While the series of decisions created drama in Washington, they ultimately won’t harm Vermont’s schools or slow down Vermont’s application for ESSA funds, say education officials.

In fact, with the new latitude in ESSA and the administration’s more hands-off approach, Vermont stands to do well under the new law, said Amy Fowler, a deputy secretary at AOE.

According to the agency, ESSA outlines expectations for states concerning school accountability and distribution of federal funding for student supports, with a goal of ensuring equitable outcomes for historically marginalized groups. These include students of color and low-income students.

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Under ESSA, as under No Child Left Behind, states must explain how they intend to measure the performance of their schools and students. When NCLB was first implemented, Vermont had to label a number of schools as failing because the state sets high expectations and standards. Fowler said life under ESSA will be different because there is more flexibility and the focus isn’t only on reading and math achievement.

Vermont has been preparing to file its ESSA plan April 3. The Education Agency has already given a copy to Gov. Phil Scott.

The new template for submitting the plan isn’t that different, but there are fewer things the agency needs to put into it, according to Fowler.

“So far everything we wrote we found a place for in the template and we don’t have any blank spaces, so we are pretty excited about that,” she said recently, adding that it will be in a different order from what the public saw in draft form, but it is all the same content.

The governor, education secretary, State Board of Education and school districts are committed to closing the achievement gap for underprivileged youth, and those goals will not be harmed by Washington, Fowler said.

“We are super lucky to live in Vermont where we are committed to supporting vulnerable youth,” she said.

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Tiffany Danitz Pache

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