Education Week - June 20, 2018 - 18
GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
No Election-Year Lull
For State Lawmakers
School safety, teachers top education issues
During election years, governors
and state legislators generally try to
avoid pushing aggressive K-12 policy
It's probably best, the thinking
goes, not to rattle parents and teachers-a massive coalition of voters
who, when it comes time to head to
the polls, rarely forget.
But after a convulsive start to 2018
marked by school shootings, teacher
strikes, and fiscal uncertainty in
many states, legislatures stepped into
high gear, scrapping governors' budget proposals, scrambling to address
school security, and-at breakneck
speed-forking over generous pay
raises to teachers.
"The big surprise this year was
teacher compensation and school safety
legislation," said Daniel Thatcher, who
analyzes K-12 legislation for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"Both became focal points this year for
legislatures across the country."
To date, all but 14 state legislative
sessions have wrapped up business
in a year when all but Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Texas were
In Florida, where 17 students
and teachers were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
in Parkland, the state's legislature
passed a law that restricts who can
buy guns, allows some employees to
carry handguns in school, and expands school health services. New
Jersey tightened existing gun statutes, and various states took steps
that included adding school resource
officers, paying for secure locks
around schools, and requiring schools
to do more frequent lockdown drills.
In Arizona, Oklahoma, and West
Virginia, where teachers struck, legislatures levied new taxes in order to
raise teacher pay in moves that ultimately will cost those states tens of
millions of dollars.
Wave of Activity
Policy and budget analysts had predicted this year would be relatively
calm in contrast to prior sessions because of election-year caution with
the prospect of 36 governors and
three-fourths of state legislative seats
on the ballot this fall.
States also were coming off a busy
2017 legislative season on K-12 issues,
Edwin J. Torres/New Jersey Governor's Office via AP
By Daarel Burnette II
spurred in part by efforts to remake
school accountability and teacherevaluation systems to take advantage
of new flexibility under the Every Student Succeeds Act. State ESSA plans
are set to go into effect this fall.
In addition, state tax revenue has
stabilized for the most part after
volatility that last year caused more
than half the states to miss their revenue targets, which had a dispropor-
tionate effect on public schools.
"What we expect to see in most
cases is for budgets to look somewhat
similar to what governors originally
proposed at the beginning of the session," said Kathryn Vesey White, a
senior policy analyst for the National
Association of State Budget Officers.
But the tragic school shootings earlier this year and the wave of salary
and funding-driven teacher activism
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy
signs bills tightening gun
restrictions in the Garden
State, passed by lawmakers
this year in the aftermath
of deadly school shootings
in Florida and Texas.
Advocates Worried About Spec. Ed. Testing Waivers Under ESSA
By Alyson Klein
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has
allowed nearly half of the states to get wiggle
room from a provision in the Every Student Succeeds Act aimed at making sure that only a small
percentage of students are taking alternative
tests reserved for children with the most significant cognitive disabilities.
And the process for granting that leeway has
made special education advocates uneasy.
Those advocates fear the department-and the
states-aren't meeting transparency requirements in the law. They're uncertain about how
monitoring these waivers from the law's requirements will work. Some are wondering just why
so many states needed the flexibility in the first
place. And their concerns echo others' fears about
the department's overall commitment to civil
rights enforcement for vulnerable populations
ESSA, which passed back in 2015, placed
an overall 1 percent cap on students in each
state who can be given alternate tests. That
amounts to about 10 percent of students in
ESSA-and regulations written by a group
of advocates and the Education Department in
2016-allowed states to seek waivers from that
requirement as long as they met certain qualifications.
Twenty-three states have sought these testing waivers. And DeVos and her team granted
them to at least 19 states: Arkansas, Delaware,
Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North
Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South
Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and
Three other states-Arizona, Hawaii, and Indiana-received partial waivers that apply only
to reading and math testing, not science assessments.
That's a lot, considering that the cap has been
in law since ESSA passed back in 2015, said
Ricki Sabia, a senior education policy adviser for
the National Down Syndrome Congress.
"States should have made more of an effort
since 2015 when the law was passed to bring
down the participation of students taking the
alternate assessment, so the waiver wouldn't be
necessary," Sabia said in an email. "They have
known about the cap for 2½ years, but because
the waiver was available it doesn't seem like
much effort was made," she said.
Slow to Implement
Back in 2013-14 school year, around the time
the requirement was first put in place, more than
three dozen states were exceeding the cap, according to federal data. Most, however, weren't
dramatically over the line. Just 17 used alternative assessments with 1.31 to 2.2 percent of
But many states didn't use the time between
18 | EDUCATION WEEK | June 20, 2018 | www.edweek.org
ESSA's passage and the first year of its implementation to begin working toward meeting the
The statewide cap presents a challenge because
there isn't a similar cap on how many students
can take alternate assessments at the district
level. That means if many districts in a particular state go over the cap, other districts may be
even more restricted in the number of students
they can test using alternate assessments. States
are charged with making sure districts are choosing the right students to test using alternate
Two other states-Maine and Pennsylvania-applied for the waivers but were rejected
because they did not meet test participation requirements. States must test 95 percent of all
their students and 95 percent of students with
disabilities before seeking a waiver. Neither state
met the testing participation requirement for
students with disabilities.
But alarmingly for advocates, the rejection letters did not include any information on
next steps, meaning what the states should do
if they were unable to stick to the one 1 percent
Elizabeth Hill, a spokeswoman for the department, said the agency's office of elementary and
secondary education and the office of special education and rehabilitative services stand ready to
provide technical assistance to states regarding
how to stay under the cap.
Advocates also point out that states seeking
States should have
made more of
an effort ... to
bring down the
of students taking
National Down Syndrome