Sen. Alexander to Education Secretary: Rethink Your Draft ESSA Spending Rules, Or Else

As we’ve reported,  the proposed federal rules to implement “supplement-not-supplant” provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) are triggering some spirited debates.  Last week those debates occurred within the negotiating committee.  This week they were repeated in Congress, where the chair of the Senate Committee that oversees education, former Education Secretary Lamar Alexander, threw down the gauntlet.

As Education Week’s  Blog reports:

“In a testy Senate education committee hearing Tuesday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. that he believed the U.S. Department of Education’s proposal for regulating that spending requirement violates the language and spirit of ESSA.

“Not only is what you’re doing against the law, the way you’re trying to do it is against another provision in the law,” Alexander told King in his opening remarks.

And Alexander said he’d use every power available to him, including the federal appropriations process, to overrule the regulations King’s department comes up with. He also said he’d encourage a lawsuit against the Education Department if he does not reconsider its proposed language.”

For his part,  King denied that his department was overstepping its authority.  He said the agency is merely trying to ensure that school districts are using an appropriate approach with regard to federal requirements for accessing federal funds.

As Education Week’s  Blog reports:

“That methodology should ensure that at least as much ins state and local spending  is taking place in Title I schools as in the average of non-Title I schools,” King told Alexander.

The “supplement-not-supplant” provision in ESSA is intended to ensure that federal Title I money earmarked for students from low-income backgrounds is in addition to what districts were already spending  from state and local sources and to make sure districts don’t use the federal money to backfill reductions in state and local funding.

A separate funding requirement in ESSA, called comparability, wasn’t changed in the new law, but requires comparable spending between schools with large shares of disadvantaged students (Title I schools) and non-Title I schools. The comparability requirement has historically not addressed  whether teachers in both types of schools must be paid comparable salaries, as long as they are on the same salary schedule.

Many, but not all negotiators expressed concern that the department’s proposed regulation would essentially mandate equal spending between the two types of schools, force teacher transfers to equalize spending on salaries between schools, and significantly disrupt how districts allocate money and resources. They argued that in essence, the department was improperly trying to alter how ESSA deals with comparability through supplement-not-supplant.

Apparently, Sen. Alexander agrees.

In his opening remarks, Alexander stressed that Congress considered changing the comparability requirement but declined to do so and suggested, however, that King and his staffers were going ahead anyway.

“We’re smart enough to write a law in plain English,” Alexander said to King, and later called King’s defense of the proposed regulations “ridiculous.”