States Charging Ahead on ESSA

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states have significant responsibilities to ensure the law’s success. At press time, here’s the latest news from around the country on ESSA implementation:

Alabama: Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) has written to the Alabama ESSA Implementation Committee, charged by Gov. Robert Bentley with “creating a state education plan” for meeting the requirements of ESSA. Roby wrote to ask the committee to ensure “our strict prohibitions against federal coercion are followed.” The letter was in response to concerns raised by local school superintendents regarding the strict state authority provisions during the critical implementation process.

Kentucky: State Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt has testified twice before the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee about ESSA implementation. Pruitt said that ED’s draft regulations “stifle creativity and are at odds with the law’s original intent.”

New York: The New York State Education Department is asking for public input on ESSA, according to state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

Wisconsin: The Department of Public Instruction is holding “listening sessions,” during which it explains the law. It also is conducting small-group discussions regarding school report cards and other topics.

Oregon Voters to Decide on Dropout Prevention Initiative

School dropouts are a vexing problem, and Oregon voters are going to have an opportunity to help decide how state school officials should deal with this issue. Oregon state officials have announced that an “initiative to dedicate more state funding to high school dropout prevention and career and technical education has qualified for the November ballot.” The Oregonians for High School Success initiative gathered 101,302 valid signatures—13,118 more than the 88,184 signature threshold. The plan would allocate one-sixth of new state revenue to high school dropout prevention, college readiness, and career and technical education programs.

Do Affluent Parents Marginalize Low-Income Students?

Affluent parents quite often “take over parent organizations” when they come to a school with a high percentage of less-affluent students of color “and unintentionally marginalize the parent community that was already there,” according to Alexandra Freidus, a doctoral candidate in urban education at New York University. Advantaged parents often advocate for programs that will help their children and “not necessarily the kids of lesser means.” Their aptitude for fundraising for the PTA can also encourage affluent parents to “think they have the right to tell principals what they think … and they’re much more likely to be a dominant voice,” Freidus says. This imbalance in power has become especially clear recently in gentrified areas, as parents with means look for schools to enrich their kids’ lives, she concludes.

School Districts Rush to Test For Lead in Water

Following the water crisis in Flint, MI, districts across the country are moving to test their drinking water for signs of lead contamination. Several state legislatures are moving toward requiring schools to test their water for lead. More than 40 percent of schools in Atlanta that have been tested report elevated lead levels in at least one water fountain or sink.