2016 Summer Leadership Institute

ESSA puts decision making in hands of local government

Kentucky School Advocate
July/August 2016

By Matt McCarty
Staff writer
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law last December, gives school districts across the Commonwealth – and the nation – the opportunity “to both engage and be engaged on behalf of public education.”

That was the message Lucy Gettmana (right), deputy associate executive director for the National School Boards Association, delivered to school board members and superintendents at KSBA’s Summer Leadership Institute July 8-9 in Lexington.

Gettman spoke to attendees during SLI’s plenary session about ESSA, which is the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and replaces the 2002 No Child Left Behind law. She also conducted a workshop on the topic.

She said ESSA will emphasize state and local governance, consult with stakeholders and provide opportunities for advocacy by school board members. “But just because it’s in the law doesn’t mean it will automatically happen,” Gettman said. “So school boards need to be proactive.”

“It’s absolutely an historic recalibration of the state and local role in providing education, and I think Kentucky, in particular, is well positioned to do well on behalf of students because of the excellent congressional delegation, KSBA’s involvement, (and) clear commitment and engagement of the local school board members,” she said.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt, who recently testified on ESSA before a congressional committees, might argue, however, that the devil is in the details. Pruitt told lawmakers his concerns are that state choices under ESSA “remain severely limited,” and shared several examples of adverse effects on Kentucky schools of the law and the way the federal education department is administering it.

Under the new law, states must present their ESSA plan to the U.S. secretary of education for approval. Prior to submitting it, they must make the plan available for public comment for at least 30 days and the plan must be developed “with timely and meaningful consultation” with local education agencies.

Gettman noted the local-control provision was sponsored by three senators, two of which were former school board members. The language establishing local governance “is the anchor. We will wear this proudly because this is school board driven and restoration of local governance.”

The state plan will go into effect for the 2017-18 school year and the “secretary shall not have the authority to mandate, direct, control, coerce or exercise any discretion or supervision over the standards adopted by the state,” Gettman said. “These are the things that protect your role as state and local leaders.

“The big message for local school board members is to work through your state school board association (and) to also work with the state educational agency to have an impact on the state plan and the state accountability system that they’re putting together, and to make sure that they don’t wait to be invited to the table and to proactively say they’re ready, willing and able to engage and help and advise on ESSA implementation,” Gettman said.

ESSA keeps the requirements for assessments in reading/English language arts, math and science. It also maintains the requirement that states annually measure the achievement of not less than 95 percent of all students. But the law gives more flexibility, allowing districts to use a nationally recognized assessment in lieu of state-mandated high school assessments, Gettman said.

“Like every piece of legislation that comes down it has a huge impact because you have to rethink and redirect funds to different areas; you have to retool things that you’ve been doing because now it may not exactly fit the new way of looking at things,” said Corbin Independent school board Chairwoman Kim Croley. “Although I think this is a huge step up from No Child Left Behind.

“I think ESSA does a much better job of allowing us to pursue personalized learning,” added Croley, who is also a member of the KSBA Board of Directors. “And we know that every student learns in their own way, in their own time, and this will help us make that happen a little easier than how it’s been done before.”

Pruitt’s Education Accountability Steering Committee, supported by several working groups, is currently working on recommendations for a new system under ESSA. After approval by the state school board, the system will be implemented for the 2017-18 school year. g

For more information on ESSA, go to
View text-based website