Whiteboard Notes | Student Loan Overhaul; ED Approves First ESSA Plan

Congress & Administration

DeVos Announces Student Loan Overhaul: On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced plans to revamp the U.S.†educa student loan servicing and processing system, fundamentally reworking how federal student loans are handled. DeVos further stated that she anticipated the system would be ready by 2019. The announcement was accompanied by a bid solicitation indicating that the U.S. Department of Education will begin collecting information from financial services, technology, and student loan companies to begin putting the system together, and expressed a particular interest in technologies that can reduce future costs. The program will be overseen by A. Wayne Johnson, head of the Office of Federal Student Aid.
 
Education Department Clarifies ESSA Evidence Requirements: On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education published a notice in the Federal Register expanding on and clarifying regulations and definitions pertaining to “evidence-based” requirements in the ESSA. The new rules reflect the ESSA statue by applying the four levels of rigor that must be met in evidence-based interventions. The new rules further assert that, in order to qualify for grants, interventions must be “relevant” and “a faithful adaptation of the evidence.” This means that any intervention must be shown to be likely effective for the populations it will be applied to, and it must be applied in the same manner as when it was studied. The Education Department will be accepting comments from the public on the rules until August 21.
 
Civil Rights Group Urges States to Include Equity in ESSA Plans: On Tuesday, representatives from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of civil rights and anti-discrimination groups, sent a letter to 34 state heads of education urging them to incorporate provisions into their state ESSA plans addressing educational equity. The letter also included specific recommendations for how states should do this, such as by disaggregating student data by race and income, holding schools accountable for the achievement of these groups, including an indication of community engagement in school ratings, and developing strategies for supporting districts in addressing the needs of various student groups. The states contacted all have yet to submit their ESSA plans, which are due on September 18.
 

States, Districts, & Colleges

Delaware’s ESSA Plan Approved: On Monday, Delaware became the first state to have their ESSA plan approved by the U.S. Department of Education. While the ED had initially raised concerns over the state plan’s ambition and use of AP exams as an indicator of college and career readiness, a series of small tweaks and a few clarifications from the state were sufficient to address the ED’s concerns, paving the way for Delaware to become the first state to gain federal approval. The Department's initial feedback to Delaware was the subject of controversy when it was first released, as it seemed to contradict some of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ earlier rhetoric over local control in ESSA plans, and potentially overstepped the legal requirements of ESSA. In a statement, however, Secretary DeVos asserted that, “My criteria for approval is clear: does the state's plan adhere to the law? Delaware demonstrated their plan does, and so I am happy to approve it,” a sentiment in line with her earlier remarks.
 
Hawaii Revises Accreditation Process for Post-Secondary Institutions: As part of the accreditation process, Hawaii’s postsecondary institutions are now required to obtain a $50,000 surety bond to protect students against loss of tuition or fees if the institution closes or fails to abide by state rules. Hawaii Governor David Ige signed legislation outlining the updated accreditation process in April, and the new law went into effect on June 1. In addition to requiring institutions to obtain bonds, however, the law also allows institutions to continue to operate provisionally while waiting for approval from accreditation agencies.
 
Illinois Education Funding Standoff Continues: On Tuesday, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (R) issued an amendatory veto to the legislature’s proposal to revise the state’s school funding formula, noting that his changes support a fairer funding system. His proposed revisions include removing the Chicago block grant, as well as the Chicago Public Schools pensions considerations, from the formula. The bill is now back in the hands of legislators, who can accept the Governor’s changes or vote to override his veto. If lawmakers neither accept nor overturn the Governor’s proposal, the legislation will die and schools will not receive state dollars until an agreement is reached. With schools expecting first payments of state aid on August 10, the situation leaves financially struggling districts throughout the state at risk of shutting down.
 
Indiana, Pennsylvania Take Steps to Revise State Accountability Systems Under ESSA: The Indiana State Board of Education came to an agreement this week on changes to the state’s accountability system under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Revisions to the existing A-F grading system include incorporating chronic absenteeism, growth and proficiency of English learners, growth in state test scores, and college and career readiness as metrics for school quality. The plan will be sent to Governor Eric Holcomb (R) for approval, and is expected to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in September. Similarly, the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s ESSA plan includes the implementation of a dashboard designed to highlight school performance on multiple indicators. The public facing school report card system would emphasize more comprehensive measures of success, including student growth and access to advanced course options, in addition to standardized test scores. The Department plans to submit its plan to the U.S. Department of Education in September, and begin using the new dashboard in Fall 2018.
 
New Mexico Considers Higher Education System Reorganization: The New Mexico Higher Education Department -- in collaboration with lawmakers, business leaders, K-12 stakeholders, and university administrators and faculty -- is conducting a study of how the state’s higher education system is organized. Currently, twenty-one different governing boards oversee the state’s thirty-one public institutions, comprising a system that some argue is ineffective and inefficient. The study will include an analysis of higher education governance models throughout the country, and an evaluation of what steps the state would need to take financially and legislatively in order to reorganize the system. The Department expects to report the study’s findings and recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature by the end of 2017.