What will House resolutions of disapproval mean for ESSA implementation?

by Jillian Luchner

(By guest contributor: Ellen Fern, Washington Partners)

On Tuesday, February 7, the House of Representatives voted to overturn regulations crafted by the Obama Administration for accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as well as regulations relating to teacher-preparation programs. The House voted to overturn regulations regarding accountability under ESSA, H.J.Res.57, by a vote of 234-190. A few more Democratic members signed on to pass the resolution overturning teacher-preparation regulations, H.J.Res. 58 by a vote of 240 – 181. Both regulations were subject to the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows lawmakers to overturn regulations from the former Administration within a certain period of time. The CRA has never been used on education regulations, thus it is unclear how the Department would proceed as far as issuing guidance or new regulations. If the regulations are overturned via a similar vote in the Senate, Congress is barred from issuing "substantially similar" regulations on these two issues before lawmakers reauthorize the Every Student Succeeds Act and the Higher Education Act, respectively. At the very least if the accountability regulations are overturned, the deadlines of April 3 or September 8 for states to submit plans for Education Department approval, with implementation to start in the 2018–19 school year, would most likely disappear, too. In remarks on Tuesday before the House vote, Representative Todd Rokita (R-IN), Chairman of the House K-12 Subcommittee, said he wanted to overturn the ESSA rules because they ran counter to the spirit of the law itself, which he said is designed to give state and district leaders more power. And he said getting rid of the rules would not impede states from shifting to ESSA as they saw fit, which will kick in for the 2017-18 school year. Both the National Governors Association (NGA) and the School Administrators Association (AASA) have supported the overturning of these regulations. Critics of this resolution, which include the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, however, noted that this would affect the work states have already done to form new accountability systems. On the House floor Tuesday, Representative Jared Polis (D-CO), Ranking Member of the House K-12 Subcommittee, said ditching the ESSA rules would be damaging and disruptive, not liberating, particularly for states that have worked for over a year to shift to the law. And he stressed that the Education Secretary's hands would be tied as far as new regulations, noting "This resolution would undo all of that state-level work ... creating mass chaos and uncertainty in public education, and destroy the civil rights safeguards that Republicans and Democrats worked so diligently to put in the Every Student Succeeds Act." Weighing in somewhere in the middle, Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), said state leaders, who have already started meeting with stakeholders and writing their implementation plans, are less concerned with the politics of overturning the regulations than the basic question of what they should do next. It’s vital that states get clarity from the Education Department once Congress acts, Minnich said: “Whatever the politics around the regulations are, states have to actually do a job, and they have to respond to this law.”

The Senate has not yet issued a similar resolution under the CRA to overturn the regulations; however, as they are in Executive Session this week, they likely would not be able to move a resolution until next week or later. The Afterschool Alliance will continue to track the developments of the CRA closely as more information becomes available.

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