Education Week - April 19, 2017 - 16
GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
First Wave of ESSA Plans Gives Early Look at State Priorities
By Alyson Klein
& Andrew Ujifusa
The Every Student Succeeds Act
sought to give states flexibility to
put their own stamp on accountability systems, including setting their
own goals for student achievement
and moving beyond reading and
math test scores in rating student
and school performance.
So how far along are states in
taking advantage of all that new
running room? The details are just
starting to emerge from the handful of plans submitted earlier this
month to the U.S. Department of
Education, which reveal a varied
policy picture across a wide range of
In addition to the District of Co-
lumbia, 10 states submitted their
plans in early April, the first of two
departmental deadlines: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New
Mexico, Tennessee, and Vermont.
Another five states-Colorado,
Louisiana, Michigan, North Dakota,
and Oregon-have finished their
plans or are very close. But they are
giving their governors and, in some
cases, other state leaders time to review them before submitting them by
early next month.
But the vast majority of states-
more than 30-will submit their plans
in the fall. It seems likely that those
states will be looking to the early-birds
for inspiration, ideas, and to see what
flies with the department.
Examining the Plans
It's unclear how much federal
pushback-or scrutiny-states will
get on their ESSA plans. The Trump
administration has put a premium
on local and state control.
One of the biggest changes from
the No Child Left Behind Act to
ESSA is that states will no longer have to demonstrate adequate
yearly progress on state exams or
show that all students are proficient
on those tests by a certain year. Instead, they'll get to set their own
goals for student achievement.
In the District of Columbia, the
system wants 85 percent of students
to be proficient on its mandatory
exams by 2038-39 the vast majority,
if not all, of students who will be in
the District's schools that year have
not been born yet.
Not all the states' goals have a
single specific number in mind. Delaware, for example, wants to cut in
half the share of students who are
not proficient on state exams in English/language arts and math by 2030.
Massachusetts, however, declined to
provide long-term academic goals, cit-
ing the lack of baseline scores from
new tests it's giving in 2016-17.
Another big change from the
previous law: Under ESSA, states
must look beyond the traditional
reading and math test scores and
factor in some sort of indicator that
looks at school quality or student
The most popular indicator so
far is chronic absenteeism or attendance, which at least eight of
the early submitters are considering. Another common choice: college
and career readiness, which half a
dozen states have incorporated.
States are defining this in a variety
of ways, including a mix of SAT and
ACT scores, career certification, and
even postsecondary outcomes.
ESSA also requires states to
incorporate four-year graduation
rates into their systems. But some
states are adding other kinds of
graduation rates into the mix as
well, including five- and six-year
graduation rates. At least three
states-Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Illinois-are looking at
whether 9th graders are on track
to graduate or taking rigorous
New Mexico is looking at college
readiness, including remediation.
That grew out of community meetings, said Hanna Skandera, the state
schools chief. In particular, she remembered one parent in the remote
Four Corners region of the state lamenting that her son had been the
valedictorian of his high school, but
still needed to catch up before he
could take credit-bearing courses in
And some of those that have submitted so far picked outside-the-box
indicators. The District of Columbia,
for example, is using "re-enrollment,"
essentially whether parents decide to
send their child back to a particular
school the next year, given the disPAGE 18 >
School Choice Implications in Religious Rights Case at High Court
By Mark Walsh
The institute is one of many groups to file a
friend-of-the-court brief on the side of Trinity
Lutheran. Among those who have filed such a
brief on the other side, in support of Missouri,
is Steven K. Green, a professor of law and history at Willamette University College of Law in
Salem, Ore., and an advocate of a high wall of
separation between church and state.
If the Supreme Court were to rule that the
Missouri state constitution's language that "no
money shall ever be taken from the public trea-
Advocates on both sides of the debate over
private school choice are paying close attention to a case before the U.S. Supreme Court
involving recycled tires-specifically, whether
Missouri violated the Constitution in refusing
to give a church a grant to use scrap tiree material to improve its preschool playground.
The court's decision in Trinity Lutheran
Church of Columbia v. Comer (Case No 15577), which it was slated to hear this week,
could weaken or eliminate one of the last
legal barriers to vouchers and tax credits for
use at private religious schools: state constitutional provisions that strictly bar government aid to religion.
Missouri is one of some three-dozen states
with such "Blaine amendments" in their state
constitutions. The provisions are named for
James G. Blaine, the 19th-century congressman who led an unsuccessful 1876 effort to
amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit public funding of religious schools at a time when
the growing Roman Catholic population was
pressing for government funding for parochial schools.
"Certainly, the Supreme Court could rule
very broadly" in the Trinity Lutheran case, said
Michael E. Bindas, a senior lawyer with the
Institute for Justice, an Arlington, Va.-based
group that has long been at the forefront of
legal advocacy for school choice. "That would
remove the state Blaine amendments from the
arsenal of school choice opponents."
Judge Neil M. Gorsuch
is sworn in as a justice of
the U.S. Supreme Court by
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy
at the White House April 10,
as Gorsuch's wife, Louise,
and President Donald Trump
watch. Gorsuch joins the
court in time to hear a case
involving a Missouri church
that is being closely
watched by advocates on
both sides of the school
sury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church,
sect, or denomination of religion" had to give
way to Trinity Lutheran's federal constitutional
right to participate in the recycled-tire grant
program, that would put the court's stamp on
"government funding of a church," Green said.
"That would set in motion [a situation in
which] the government could fund other aspects
of religion," including private school vouchers, he
said. "There is a larger principle at stake."
The 'Pious or the Profane'
The Trinity Lutheran case stems from efforts by the church to improve its preschool
playground, which is covered in pea gravel, by
applying for Missouri's scrap-tire grant program, which provides money to install safe,
rubberized ground coverings that provide an
environmentally friendly use for old tires.
Missouri officials turned down the church's
16 | EDUCATION WEEK | April 19, 2017 | www.edweek.org
application, which otherwise ranked high on
a set of neutral criteria, based on the state
constitutional provision that bars direct or indirect government financial aid to churches.
Trinity Lutheran sued the state under its
First Amendment right to free exercise of religion and its 14th Amendment equal-protection
right. A federal district court dismissed the
claims. It rejected the church's free-exercise
claim because the scrap-tire program involved
a direct payment to a religious institution that
would raise First Amendment establishmentof-religion concerns comparable to those cited
by the Supreme Court in its 2004 decision in
Locke v. Davey.
In that case, the justices held that the state
of Washington could deny a scholarship to a
student studying "devotional theology" without running afoul of the student's free-exercise rights.
Trinity Lutheran appealed to the U.S. Court
of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, in St. Louis,
where a panel voted 2-1 to uphold the district
court, expressing concern about the "direct
grant of public funds to churches."
In its brief to the Supreme Court, the church
says there is no basis for the state to exclude it
from the neutral grant program.
"A rubber playground surface accomplishes
the state's purposes whether it cushions the
fall of the pious or the profane," the brief says.
David A. Cortman, a senior counsel at the
Alliance Defending Freedom, the Scottsdale,
Ariz.-based group that is representing Trinity
Lutheran, said in an interview that Missouri
"is discriminating against the church not because it doesn't meet the neutral criteria but
because of its religious status."
The state declined an interview request,
but argues in its brief that "Trinity Lutheran
remains free, without any public subsidy, to
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