What Cities Need to Know About the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a bipartisan measure that reauthorizes the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), our nation's primary K-12 education law and longstanding commitment to equal opportunity for all students. Passage of the act is significant since it achieved consensus from Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate despite the current political polarization between parties.

The act will be fully implemented by the 2017-18 school year. Unlike the preceding version of ESEA, known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), ESSA will reduce federal oversight and give states and local school districts more control over testing, accountability, and teacher evaluation measures. States will also have more flexibility in choosing interventions for their failing schools. Instead of testing being used punitively against districts, test results will be used as benchmarks to determine student progress. States will be required to collect academic measures as usual, but, in addition, must collect a non-academic measure focused on either school climate, safety, or student well-being. These changes have created a policy framework that is focused on more state and local control in the education arena.

ESSA Emphasizes Equity in Education

The ESSA emphasizes equity in almost every component. States will be required to identify and provide more support and resources to the schools identified as performing at the bottom 5 percent of their accountability systems and where fewer than 67 percent of the students graduate. Furthermore, districts must provide test score and other assessment data identifying racial, ethnic, and economic subgroups. This more targeted data collection will allow states to be aware of achievement gaps between different student populations.

The other significant difference is a push on equitable distribution of state and local funding to schools in need. The bill includes a pilot program for 50 districts to use a weighted student formula using actual per-pupil expenditures – in their highest-poverty schools. In return, the districts will have the opportunity to use their Title I and other federal formula funds with a degree of flexibility to provide comprehensive plans for their high-need students.

What City Leaders Should Know: City-Centered Components of the ESSA 

The ESSA supports multiple programs that are very locally focused:

  • There is specific language under Title IV supporting community supports in schools. The act will push funding toward districts that are adopting a community school model.
  • The Promise Neighborhoods program has been maintained under ESSA with the potential for new funding for other neighborhood-based sites. 
  • Expanded support for high-performing public charter schools targeting high-need students will be available.
  • There is a pilot program for 50 districts to adopt a wighted student formula.
  • There is an expansion of the Obama Administration's Preschool Development Grants program, which will lead to more state funding and access to supports for districts building on preschool options for low and moderate income families.
  • Emphasis on importance of college and career ready standards.

How NLC Helps Cities Improve Educational Outcomes

As ESSA provides new responsibilities to state governments, it also provides an opportunity for municipalities to emphasize the needs of their children and youth. Through the support of National League of Cities' Mayors' Education Task Force and the ESSA, mayors can build on their partnerships with school district leaders and other community partners to improve their cities' educational outcomes. Bringing mayors together to craft policy and practical solutions that fit the new resources and components of the act will be an essential role for the National League of Cities. Contact Miles Sandler at Sandler@nlc.org for further guidance and resources in how your city can be a leader in supporting children and youth.