Webinar: Building ESSA Plans for Equity and Opportunity

Download the slides for this webinar here

In June the Schott Foundation hosted a special extended-length webinar diving deep into implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. While discussing the minutiae of education policy is rarely an exciting activity, the panelists on our webinar showed how important it is that advocates and community members know how ESSA works: the future of our children’s education depends on it.

Moderated by our Director of Programs and Advocacy Marianna Islam, our panelists included:

  • Tanya Clay House, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for P-12 Education, U.S. Department of Education
  • Beth Glenn, Director, Education Justice Network (EJN)
  • Jaime Koppel, Deputy Director for Strategic Partnerships, Communities for Just Schools Fund
  • Marilyn Young, Education Director of Southern Echo

Because ESSA moves so much authority to the state level, each state and the District of Columbia must produce their own ESSA plans. For a brief overview of these plans, and the ways stakeholders can take part, check out our recent infographic.

As Ms. Clay House put it, “We know that this process can seem overwhelming, which is why we are hosting this webinar to assist stakeholders in their efforts to be effective advocates within this entire process.”

Clay House reminded participants that the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act “was created as a civil rights law during the civil rights movement in 1965.” Even with increased deference to states with ESSA, the Federal government still has significant powers to ensure equity and combat discrimination in our public schools.

An important part of ESSA is its extensive provisions for stakeholder input (what the act calls “meaningful consultation” at the local and state level as these plans are both created and carried out. Clay House included in her presentation key questions that we should be asking during the state planning process.

Beth Glenn detailed the harmful education cuts the Trump administration has included in its proposed budget. The budget would cut $9.2 billion, which would disproportionately impact the poor. “The biggest threats aren’t in enactment exactly as it came from the White House,” Glenn said, “but that they’ll make smaller cuts that are still just as damaging, but they seem more reasonable by comparison.”

The budget also would cut all Title II supports for teaching and push for state enactment of voucher schemes, diverting Title I funds from public schools to private and religious schools.

Jamie Koppel emphasized the importance of ensuring the release of detailed and useful data from states and districts. “Not only should states be providing data related to the experiences of young people, they should be doing it in ways that include cross-tabulated data, so we can dig deep into understanding,” Koppel said. “What are the experiences that these young people are having at the school level, the local level, and the state level… to really ensure that the promise of ESSA is fulfilled?”

(The importance of clear and disaggregated data is something Schott has long advocated for, and is crucial in discovering which students are being disadvantaged by our current system.)

Koppel highlighted the state report cards that ESSA establishes, requiring states to consult with parents in their creation to ensure the final product tells the whole story. Crucially, states are required to include data points on school climate, including suspensions, expulsions, and arrests — information foundational to efforts to end the school-to-prison pipeline.

Marilyn Young joined the webinar to tell us what stakeholder involvement has looked like so far in Mississippi.

“It is very important for us to ensure that we are actively engaged in this [ESSA] process, and that our voices be heard and lifted up as a part of it,” Young said.

Mississippi recently approved its own state plan. Southern Echo was an integral part of the process, building on longstanding relationships with state superintendent of education and other officials in the Department of Education.

Public education in Mississippi is in dire straits, but the Mississippi Delta in particular has been overlooked for decades. “We’ve been receiving so many cuts from the state level; we knew that ESSA was one of the ways that we could certainly impact it and get more resources to the area,” she said.

The Department of Education held a listening tour in 15 locations across the state, but none in the Delta itself — Southern Echo pushed for a meeting in the Delta and won it.

The Mississippi Department of Education created an “advisory board” with roughly thirty members: elected officials, state employees, community groups, advocacy groups, disability rights groups and others. Meeting frequently over the last year, many community recommendations have been incorporated into the final plan. Among Southern Echo’s priorities are school climate and teaching quality. Young described how the larger problem of economic disinvestment in the Delta played a role in these issues. For example, the teacher shortage schools are suffering from is only worsened by unaffordable housing and a dearth of local amenities like grocery stores.

There was a lot more than we can cover in just a blogpost — watch the whole webinar to learn more!