Federal Education Bill Gives More Power to States

Under the new law, Connecticut and other states will be allowed to create their own accountability systems.

By:  David Desroches
WNPR

Washington lawmakers passed the long-debated education bill that minimizes the federal government's role in public education.

The "Every Student Succeeds Act," or ESSA, is the third reauthorization of the 1965 law that allowed for federal oversight of education across the United States, and also included provisions to hold states accountable for achievement gaps among traditionally underserved students.

ESSA passed the House of Representatives last week and the Senate on Wednesday.

Senator Chris Murphy praised the legislation, which eliminated many of the heavily-criticized aspects of "No Child Left Behind," the 2001 law passed during the George W. Bush administration that heavily weighted student test scores when calculating school quality.

"The days of federally-mandated testing regimes, interventions and assessments are done," Murphy said. "It's going to be up to the state of Connecticut as to how they choose to measure what a good school is."

Connecticut is one of at least 19 states that’s been granted a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act, which had strict compliance requirements. Connecticut had been under-reporting several categories of students and promised to fix that, so the U.S. Department of Education granted the state a waiver in 2012, and again this year.

Under the new law, Connecticut and other states will be allowed to create their own accountability systems. States still have to monitor the progress of students who often fall through the cracks, such as minorities, poor students, and students with disabilities, but the federal government is now playing a much smaller role in this process.

Also, states can now rate schools based on factors other than academics. Aspects such as school climate and parent satisfaction can be included when rating schools.

Murphy lauded most of the bills provisions, but expressed concern over the decision to not require universal preschool.

"All of the research tells us that kindergarten is too late to begin guaranteed public education," Murphy said. "We need to be providing a minimum level of education to kids as early as 3... I, as a parent, would never ever conceive of not providing some level of education to my 4 year-old."

Concern has also been raised about whether some states might not address certain problems, now that the federal government has relaxed its accountability role. The 1965 law was passed during the Civil Rights era, and part of its mandate was based on the idea that some states and districts would not voluntarily change discriminatory practices that segregated students and maintained wide gaps in achievement.

Murphy said he was aware of that some states might not take the law as seriously as others.

"I know there's a danger with setting states off on their own," he said, "but I think we've built in enough safeguards here to make sure that minority kids and disabled kids are expected to achieve."

While the bill takes away a considerable portion of power from the secretary of education, current Secretary Arne Duncan has praised the bill, saying it reflects his vision.

The bill was passed with bipartisan support. White House officials have also indicated strong support of the bill.