ESSA Changes Everything

Editor’s Note: The contents of this article were taken from the webinar, “Mirror, Window, or GPS: Which Gets Results in Today’s K12 Market?” presented by Steve Rowley for Agile Education.

One thing we know with certainty is that federal funding is mission critical for most K-12 education vendors. Federal funding quadrupled under NCLB (No Child Left Behind) compared to the earlier ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act). In fact, more than 90% of district discretionary funds come from federal programs. When President Obama signed ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) in December 2015, it went into effect immediately and pulls back some of the more onerous requirements of NCLB.

You could say that ESSA restores the balance of power with some decisions shifting from the federal government back to the states. For example, many of the decisions around standardized testing will now be up to the states. Some federal funding will be available in block grants, and the states will decide where and how to spend it. Immediate changes include:

  • No more Annual Yearly Progress (AYP)
  • No federal accountability for funds
  • No funding/portability vouchers
  • Abrupt cutoff to some competitive grant programs
  • Changes to “Research Basis” and “Evidence of Effectiveness”
  • Substantial changes to resources for ELL, Gifted, Early Childhood, Special Education, Assessment/Testing, etc.

How Will These Changes Affect Your Customers and Your Company?

While full compliance with ESSA is not required until 2017, for planning, that’s a relatively short timeline. The first set of rules will not be available until April 2016 at the earliest. However, knowing how this law impacts your customers and your segment of the K-12 market is critical to your future success. Some major shifts include:

  • Continued push toward individualized instruction
  • High academic standards like the Common Core are required, but the states govern the adoption and implementation of their own standards
  • States will choose, design, and implement assessment for their own state standards
  • Continued trend to connect early childhood education such as PreK and Headstart to K-12 schools
  • No more requirements for “highly qualified” teachers. States will be responsible for developing their own professional requirements
  • Accountability for ELL instruction now moved to Title I
  • For special education, increased access to general education and assessment accommodation

It is unlikely that districts will carry over any funds from the 2015-2016 school year to the 2016-2017 school year as we transition from one set of rules to another. This means that there is likely to be a “spend-down” effect in spring 2016. This could be an opportunity for your company to secure some of those “extra” dollars before they disappear.

Time for Internal Conversations About Your Business

Here are some questions to answer within your company to determine how ESSA will impact your business:

  • Does ESSA change the nature or priority of the problems your product solves?
  • Do you need to change the way you present your value proposition in your marketing?
  • How will you reeducate or adjust the training of your sales team so that they’re knowledgeable enough about ESSA to guide your customers?
  • Are you prepared for cash flow uncertainty in spring 2016?

Achieving success in competitive markets requires doing the Right Things, the Right Way, with the Right Team. Anything else is just luck. Your business strategy is only as good as the data your assumptions are based on…and opinions aren’t data.

Our thanks to Steve Rowley of Acumen Partners for this information. You can find the webinar here if you’d like a deeper dive into this information.


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