The NCSL Blog


By Ben Schaefer

NCSL’s Education Committee staff is heading west … and north, and east and south.

NCSL Education Committee staffers visited Tennessee.With the passage in December of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal education law that reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and eliminated some of the most onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), state legislators across the country are taking a fresh look at the interaction of federal and state education policy.

Recently, NCSL staff have testified before state education committees and other legislative groups from Juneau and Nashville (pictured, left)  to Dover and Helena. The biggest questions?  “How does this law differ from NCLB?” “What does it mean for our state?” “How are state legislators involved?” Well, since you asked …

The Wall Street Journal called ESSA the “largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter-century.”  Under NCLB, the country saw a large shift from the more traditional state- and local-based education policy to a system based on federal requirements and punitive measures that set admirable but unrealistic goals for academic progress.

ESSA shifts more of that authority back to states and school districts. Important provisions in the bill include the creation of state-designed accountability systems—and the elimination of the Adequate Yearly Progress metric—greater authority over how testing is used to evaluate how schools are performing, and “guardrail” policies to ensure the lowest-performing schools and groups of students are not ignored.

This new law, which passed both chambers of Congress with large bipartisan support, also recognizes the important constitutional and statutory role of state legislators in providing an excellent education for their states’ children. One of NCSL’s top priorities when advocating in the halls of Congress was the inclusion and consultation of legislators in the development of the states’ respective Title I plans; the provision was adopted as part of the final bill.

However, not everything has changed. States do still need to meet certain federal requirements. For example, the statewide assessments under NCLB are still in place, and states will have to ensure that 95 percent of students are tested. They will still have to have strong academic standards, and will still have to collect data on student subgroups.

Now that the bill has been signed into law and states are working to prepare for life under ESSA, NCSL is here to help. Explore our resources on the law here and email us with any questions.

And keep an eye out for us in a statehouse near you.

Ben Schaefer is a policy specialist in NCSL’s State-Federal Relations division in D.C.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.