In a Jan. 28 “Dear Colleague” letter to state and local education officials, the U.S. Department of Education outlined several areas in which the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new federal elementary and secondary education law enacted in December, will begin providing flexibility to states and local school districts in 2016-2017.
Several aspects of the previous law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001) will remain in effect next school year, however. For example, federal program grants will be determined by the same formula that was used in 2015-2016. For the most part, school districts that receive grants for 2016-2017 will continue operating with the same plans and procedures, and under the same requirements, in place in the current school year.
There will be some exceptions, however, as the federal education department begins an “orderly transition” to ESSA, beginning in 2016-2017.
In New Jersey, one of the states operating under an NCLB flexibility waiver, “Priority” and “Focus” schools—those that undergo various programs to address chronically low student achievement, or persistent achievement gaps—must continue to implement the “intervention strategies” currently in place, according to the Jan. 28 letter. However, the state will have the option of freezing its existing priority and focus schools list, or updating the list by March 1, 2016. (In 2011, the New Jersey Department of Education identified 74 priority schools in 15 districts, including three charter schools. That same year, 179 schools, in 88 districts, including one charter school, were placed on the “Focus” list.)
Additionally, states or local school districts, as applicable, will not be required to comply with certain provisions of No Child Left Behind in 2016-2017 if they impede a priority or focus school’s implementation of intervention strategies. These NCLB requirements address the proportion of federal funding directed to Title I schools for improvement, corrective action or restructuring; the poverty rate necessary to operate a schoolwide program; limits on federal funding that a school district may transfer between programs, and other factors.
Additional information is included in the USDOE’s Jan. 28 letter.