Tech groups eager for ESSA guidance as King prepares to go before Congress

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Education and technology groups are looking for more guidance on the Every Student Succeeds Act as acting Education Secretary John King plans to outline his vision of the new law before Congress this week.

The overhaul of No Child Left Behind gives states more flexibility and authority over how to spend federal dollars, and allots $1.65 billion in block grants for counseling, dropout prevention programs and technology – but it’s still unclear whether all that money will see the light of day.

President Obama, in his 2017 federal budget proposal released earlier this month, requested just $500 million for states to dole out the competitive grants to districts, as the likelihood Congress would approve full funding grew dimmer.

But education advocates hope more money goes into school coffers.

“We hope that funders provide much more, because the interest in using this flexible funding stream is very high,” said Phillip Lovell, vice president of policy and advocacy at the Alliance for Excellent Education, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C. “It could be used for so many things.”

Along with a new law, there is also a new acting education secretary – King’s nomination is still pending since he took over for Arne Duncan, and King will go before lawmakers in a separate hearing to testify about his appointment.

With the transition, it is unclear how much guidance will be issued to states and school districts in the near future. The law will officially go into effect during the 2017-18 academic year.

“The department is still working through a lot of details about how to implement the law,” said Lovell. “Slowly but surely, states will get information. But a lot of policies have yet to be determined because the department has to issue regulations.”

Obama’s budget request started the negotiating process over the funding of the bill. Congress will ultimately decide how much money to assign in the annual appropriations bill, which is usually enacted in the new fiscal year.

Other groups are concerned that if Congress doesn’t appropriate the full $1.65 billion, even less money will go toward technology infrastructure. As it stands, no more than 15 percent of the block grants can go toward hardware.

Lan Neugent, interim executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, said this fixed amount “is not sufficient to do what is necessary,” and called for Congress to deliver on “what was originally projected.”

Kristen Amundson, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education, advised that state leaders confer about what districts need before making any funding decisions.

“You should start to think about what changes you want to make and you should start to gather information, but you don’t have to act in a hasty way,” she said.

Amundson added that it might be typical to see more states using the money for personalized learning programs.

“I think that is very positive, [and] something we will certainly encourage states to take a look at,” she said.

King will testify before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce about the law on Thursday at 10 a.m., and then on his nomination later that afternoon. He will also go before the committee on Wednesday to talk about the department’s budget request.

Reach the reporters at yizhu.wang@edscoop.com and corinne.lestch@edscoop.com. Follow them on Twitter @yizhuevy, @clestch and @edscoop_news.

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