Education Department vacancies may hurt ESSA implementation, witnesses say

By Caitlin Emma, POLITICO

Democrat Rep. Susan Davis this morning questioned the Education Department’s capacity to review state plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act, given its large number of vacancies and lack of top tier political leadership.

Davis made her remarks at a House Education and the Workforce hearing on state and local efforts to implement the law.

Other witnesses shared similar concerns: Jacqueline Nowicki, director of K-12 Education at the Government Accountability Office, noted that vacancies can pose challenges for any agency.

Phillip Lovell, vice president of policy development and government relations for the advocacy group, Alliance for Excellent Education, said a lack of capacity “really puts pressure on career staff” tasked with going through hundreds of pages of material.

That lack of capacity has in part led to inconsistent Education Department feedback on state ESSA plans, he said.

For example, Lovell said some state plans appear to sidestep a requirement that states and school districts test 95 percent of students annually. The law puts the onus on states to figure out how to address low participation rates.

While the Education Department has actively provided feedback on states’ long-term goals or how they plan to measure college and career readiness, “mum’s been the word” on the law’s 95 percent testing requirement, Lovell said.

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