WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Vice Ranking Member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, sent a letter to Education Secretary DeVos to raise concerns about the Department of Education’s review of state plans for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Thirteen additional members of the House and the Senate joined Bonamici and Murphy on the letter.

In the letter, the members urged the Secretary to uphold her commitment to implement the law as intended by Congress and use the peer review process to make sure that the Department approves only the highest quality state plans that will improve learning outcomes for disadvantaged students.

“The ESSA gives states and school districts a great deal of flexibility and discretion to design statewide accountability systems that work for their communities; however, the intent of Congress, as evidenced by the law’s statutory requirements, was to allow state plans to be designed within federally set parameters that ensure equity for underserved students and some measure of quality across states,” the members wrote. “The Department’s peer review process provides an important opportunity for improving the quality of state plans and helping states realize more equitable outcomes for students. Although we recognize that no two state plans will be identical, we are concerned that the wide variances and discrepancies in how states’ have proposed to address core statutory requirements could indicate a lack of quality control.”

A comprehensive overhaul of No Child Left Behind, ESSA passed Congress with strong bipartisan support in 2015. An important component of the law is a peer review process to evaluate state plans for implementation. The plans describe how states will develop and implement statewide accountability systems that will deliver needed resources to schools to improve learning among all students, including low-income students, minority students, English learners, students with disabilities, homeless youth, and other underserved populations.

As part of the ESSA’s effort to advance educational equity, Congress expressly directed expert peer reviewers to offer “feedback to States designed to strengthen the technical and overall quality of State plans.” Commonsense regulations would have clarified the law’s new flexibility and requirements for states and school districts, but Congressional Republicans voted to block the regulations last month. Subsequently the Department of Education released inadequate revised peer review guidance. Sixteen states have already submitted plans that the Department of Education deemed complete and ready to begin the peer review process.

Joining Murphy and Bonamici in signing the letter are U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and U.S. Representatives Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), Susan Davis (D-Calif.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), and Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.).  

Full text of the letter is available here.