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State Education Chief: We're Ready, Willing, and Able to Lead

The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, chaired by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN), today held an oversight hearing on the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Members learned what state and local leaders expect from the new law and discussed opportunities to ensure control over K-12 education is restored to states and school districts.

“The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act puts states and school districts back in charge of education, and includes more than 50 pages of provisions to keep the Department of Education in check,” Chairman Rokita said. “Moving forward, it’s our collective responsibility to hold the Department of Education accountable for how it implements the law. Congress promised to restore state and local control over K-12 education, and now it’s our job to ensure that promise is kept.”

A key part of that effort is congressional oversight of the Department of Education as it implements the law. Kent Talbert, former general counsel for the department, described the responsibility of the administration in adhering to both the letter of the law and the congressional intent behind it. For example, under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal government is “prohibited from mandating, directing, or controlling a state, school district, or school’s instructional content, curricula, programs of instruction, or standards or assessments. This prohibition includes any requirement to adopt the Common Core Standards.”

Citing this and other examples, Talbert said the unifying theme of ESSA’s provisions is limiting the federal role in education and returning decision-making authority back to the states and school districts. That’s why, when it comes to implementing the law, Superintendent of Hartselle City Schools in Hartselle, Alabama Vic Wilson, said, “less is more.” Speaking specifically about the role the Department of Education, Wilson added, “[The department] can empower school districts to think outside the box and implement procedures and policies that best meet the needs of schools and students they serve.”

Dr. Wilson continued, “ESSA makes it clear … Congress’ intent is that states should be solely responsible for decisions regarding accountability, standards, teachers, and other factors.” Oklahoma’s State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister agreed, adding her state-level perspective to the discussion. “States like Oklahoma,” said Hofmeister, “will only be able to achieve the full promise of the ESSA if the federal government holds true to the spirit of the law.”

“States are not only ready, but we are willing and able to lead,” Hofmeister continued, urging Congress and the department to “trust us as we work with parents, teachers and key stakeholders to transition to this new law.”

Those sentiments were echoed today by organizations representing parents, teachers, and state and local leaders. In a letter to Acting Secretary of Education John King, the organizations wrote, “We must work together to closely honor congressional intent. ESSA is clear: Education decision making now rests with states and districts, and the federal role is to support and inform those decisions.”

“It is my firm belief,” Chairman Rokita concluded, “that when the Every Student Succeeds Act is implemented as Congress intended, parents, teachers, and state and local leaders will be empowered to deliver the excellent education every child deserves.”

To learn more about this hearing, visit edworkforce.house.gov.

 

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