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Chairwoman Foxx Opening Statement: Hearing on “ESSA Implementation: Exploring State and Local Reform Efforts”

ESSA can be considered a milestone for K-12 policy because it was a monumental shift in  the role states and school districts would have in the future of education.

ESSA sought to achieve two specific goals for K-12 education: autonomy and accountability.

States and school districts were given new independence when creating a K-12 education program that works best for their own students, ending a “Washington knows best” approach to education.

Additionally, ESSA specifically prohibited the federal government from influencing states’ adoption of particular standards. It also repealed federal mandates for teacher performance and protected a state’s right to opt-out of federal education programs.

Part of ESSA’s goal for state and school district autonomy was to force Washington to remain at arm’s length from states and school districts when it comes to education, and rest assured that this committee will be watching to ensure Washington keeps its distance.

While states and school districts were given more autonomy in ESSA, the law maintains provisions ensuring parents have transparent information about school performance and states and districts can hold schools accountable for delivering a high-quality education to all students.

ESSA also included unprecedented restrictions on the Department of Education’s authority to take back the state and local flexibility guaranteed by the law.

ESSA has stripped away powers of the Department of Education, such as the ability of the Secretary of Education to legislate through executive fiat, or the ability of the Department’s bureaucrats to substitute their judgment for states’.

History made it clear that a top down approach to K-12 education did not serve students, teachers, parents, or the states well, and ESSA directly addressed those shortcomings.

Given the monumental shift in education policy represented by ESSA, it is important that we hear how implementation is progressing. We know the law will not fully take effect until the coming school year, and we will need time to assess its impact on schools and students. However, I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses about the progress states, school districts, and the Department of Education are making.

This committee has been keeping a close eye on this implementation process. Last year, we held four hearings on implementation of ESSA. Today, we will continue our discussion on ESSA’s implementation.

ESSA was truly a change for K-12 education, and I do believe this bipartisan law delivers the proper balance of autonomy and accountability to parents and taxpayers, while ensuring a limited federal role.

This law has the ability to empower state and local leaders to change K-12 education for the better, and that is why it is of utmost importance to this committee.