The U.S. Department of Education announced Friday that 17 submitted state plans for implementing the new Every Student Succeeds Act have been deemed complete and will now move forward to peer review as one-third of the country’s schools chiefs look to take greater control over local districts under the new law.
“Today’s announcement is a big win for ESSA implementation. I am committed to returning decision-making power back to states and setting the Department up to serve the support and monitoring roles intended by Congress,” Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement.
“The Department worked with states to ensure their plans included all statutorily required components laid out in the Department’s revised template. I commend officials from these states for their efforts to ensure their plans were ready for the peer-review process, and for their continued work to improve education for all students.”
Friday’s announcement marked a clean sweep, advancing forward all the state plans that had been received by the early spring deadline. Per the department’s official release, the 17 plans will now move to the staff and peer review process, through which they will be examined by experts and stakeholders to ensure they comply with the standards established by the federal law.
There has been some speculation that Secretary DeVos may use these reviews to further urge states to formalize and prioritize school choice initiatives. As Carolyn Phenicie reported from a Brookings Institution event in March, DeVos hinted that the Trump administration may try to put its finger on the scale in favor of choice through the ESSA process.
“Through the peer review and then ultimate sign-off on the states’ plans, we’re going to have opportunity to comment on what they are aspiring to do,” DeVos said at the time. “I suspect that there will be places that we can point out they’re probably being deficient in their approach to one of these measures, and I suspect there will be places that we will want to highlight, suggesting others may want to emulate and follow suit.”
But the department later clarified the remarks, telling U.S. News & World Report that DeVos was merely indicating she would encourage states to consider all options. One official told the outlet: “There is a distinction between encourage and compel.”
See The 74’s explainer: 5 things to know about the Every Student Succeeds Act (and get the latest ESSA news delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for The 74 Newsletter)