This Week’s ESSA News: Current Law Restricts DeVos’s Waiver Powers, Homeschooled Students Not Necessarily Freed From Annual Tests & More

This update on the Every Student Succeeds Act and the education plans now being implemented by states and school districts is produced in partnership with ESSA Essentials, an ongoing series from the Collaborative for Student Success. It’s an offshoot of their ESSA Advance newsletter, which you can sign up for here! (See our recent ESSA updates from previous weeks right here.)

The $2.2 trillion coronavirus economic aid package recently signed by President Trump commits “$31 billion in dedicated emergency funding for K-12 and higher education,” reports Education Week, with $13.5 billion for public school budgets. Additionally, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act gives Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “the power to grant significant relief from key accountability statutes under ESSA,” while also requiring her “to report to Congress 30 days after the bill becomes law about any recommendations she has to grant schools ‘limited flexibility’ from several education laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”

Already, education groups are “anticipating and discussing the need for another round of coronavirus aid” as the package falls short of the $75 billion they had asked for in March.

Of the $13.5 billion for public schools, 90 percent is “earmarked for school districts through the Title I aid formula” and could be used to “support a variety of learning needs and various activities under the Every Student Succeeds Act,” including remote learning for schools that have closed due to the coronavirus. However, the new federal package “provides historic levels of emergency funding” and “much-needed resources,” says CCSSO Executive Director Carissa Moffat Miller.

Amid the chaos sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, here are the week’s other top headlines for how states are implementing and improvising under ESSA:

DeVos Waiver Power Constricted By Current Law

While the coronavirus economic aid package gives Secretary DeVos authority to waive key federal education requirements under ESSA, current law also includes “restrictions on the secretary’s waiver power,” including funding-related restrictions.

DeVos “can’t waive requirements for allocating of federal money to state, school districts, and Indian tribes,” preserving the Title I funding formula. Additionally, she cannot waive “requirements for schools to provide services to Title I schools that are comparable to non-Title I schools;” “applicable civil rights requirements” that fall under the ADA or Title VI of the Civil Rights Act; prohibitions on using ESSA funds for transportation or construction purposes; and more.

Annual Assessments Canceled, Postponed, or Suspended Nationwide 

Thousands of schools across the country have closed in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus, throwing state assessments into disarray.

After initially contemplating “targeted” waivers of federal testing requirements, the U.S. Department of Education “shifted to a broader approach that will let most states bypass all federal testing requirements.” The list of states that are either seeking a federal waiver to suspend testing, delaying testing, or have already been granted initial approval to waive testing by the DOE has grown to include all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia and the Bureau of Indian Education.

Annual Testing for Homeschooled Students Not Impacted by ESSA Testing Waivers

The Trump administration’s waiving of federally required testing normally required under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) does not apply to homeschooling families, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).

While schools do not need to adhere to ESSA’s federal testing requirements in order to receive federal assistance from the program in light of the spread of the novel coronavirus, “homeschool regulation is state-specific,” and, ”in most cases, only state legislatures have the authority to waive state educational requirements.” HSLDA is monitoring for state-specific actions by legislators and “recommends that homeschoolers continue to follow the law as it relates to assessing their child.”

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