Updated ESSA State Plan Template Released by the Department of Education

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued a letter to chief state school officers on Monday announcing the Department of Education’s new state plan template for ESSA implementation. The consolidated state plan designed to replace the original template requests materials deemed “absolutely necessary” by the new administration.

The template is shorter and includes fewer requirements than the earlier template produced by the Obama Administration late last year. However, the Department of Education ensured educators that the consolidated template gives states education leaders greater flexibility to do what is best for students, while maintaining provisions for economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, and English learners.  

Secretary DeVos in her statement said, “My philosophy is simple: I trust parents, I trust teachers, and I trust local school leaders to do what's right for the children they serve. ESSA was passed with broad bipartisan support to move power away from Washington, D.C., and into the hands of those who are closest to serving our nation's students.”

Although the new template requires that states abide by all civil rights and anti-discrimination laws, reduced accountability measures are worrisome for critics of the new regulations. Removing federal oversight from the ESSA implementation process concerns those who fear how these developments might affect low-income and minority students as well as students with disabilities. 

Another difference between the two templates is the requirement of stakeholder input. The original template required states developing their accountability plans to consult with stakeholders such as teachers, principals, parents, and administrators. The new template says that the only outside source education agencies are required to consult is the governor. However, the department still “strongly encourages” states to consult with these groups

Removal of the requirement won’t necessarily deter states from seeking additional stakeholder input. Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen said in a news release, “It is my intent to honor the work done by dedicated stakeholders and strengthen Montana’s plan. I am excited for this new opportunity to work with local communities, business leaders, and schools to update and build upon Montana’s state plan and ensure flexibility."

Much of the initial bipartisan support for ESSA was due to the stakeholder engagement requirement. Parents, teachers, and those closest to the kids would have their voices heard when states develop their accountability plans. DeVos’ new template may backfire if states revert back to relying on politicians rather than educators to develop their ESSA performance measures. The original due dates of April 3 and September 18 still remain for state plan submission.  

Attached below is the final consolidated template for state plans, a fact sheet about the new template, and a FAQ document responding to potential concerns, all issued by the Department of Educaiton.