Secretary of Education Joins NLC in Support of the Every Student Succeeds Act

task force
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Mayors and city officials gather on March 7, 2016 to discuss the impact of the Every Student Succeeds Act from Dr. John B. King Jr., Acting Secretary of Education. (photo: Jason Dixson)

Through the support of NLC's Mayors’ Education Task Force and the Every Student Succeeds Act, mayors can build on their partnerships with school district leaders and other community partners to improve their cities’ educational outcomes.

At the Mayors’ Education Task Force Meeting at NLC’s 2016 Congressional City Conference, newly appointed chair Mayor Betsy Hodges of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Acting Secretary of Education Dr. John B. King, Jr. led a discussion on the importance of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Signed into law on December 10, 2015 by President Barack Obama, the bipartisan measure 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. At the March 7th meeting, Acting Secretary of Education Dr. John B. King, Jr. provided context to the mayors by informing them that ESSA will reduce federal oversight and give state and local districts more control over testing accountability and teacher evaluation measures. 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. “There’s a powerful role for mayors to be conveners, bringing together community partners to serve youth and support education,” said Acting Secretary King, Jr. during the Mayors Education Task Force meeting. Mayor Hodges, for example, uses her influence to convene education and community stakeholders to champion equity for young people in Minneapolis. The ESSA supports equity by requiring states to identify and provide more support and resources to the schools identified as performing at the bottom five percent and where fewer than 67 percent of the students graduate.

Furthermore, districts must provide test scores 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 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 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.
  • 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.
  • There is an emphasis on the importance of college and career ready standards.

As ESSA provides new responsibilities to state governments, it also provides an opportunity for municipalities to emphasize the needs of their children and youth. “Young people spend seven hours in school – but when they walk out, they walk into our cities. We have a responsibility to support them,” Mayor Hodges explained during the Task Force meeting.

Through the support of NLC's 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. If you would like to get your city more involved in the Mayors’ Education Task Force, contact Miles Sandler at

About the Author: Miles Sandler is the Senior Associate for Education in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Miles can be reached at