President Obama signed the reauthorization of the Elementary & Secondary Education Act (ESEA) into law in mid-December as the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA. A bipartisan victory in Congress, the ESSA has significant changes from its previous iteration as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) passed during the Bush administration. Congress was able to pass the law because it featured changes in the federal education role by giving power back to the states to make decisions about appropriate spending and to have greater flexibility in setting their own academic performance targets and effective interventions.
Changes in federal funding will likely have an impact on education companies. ESSA moves critical federal funding back to the control of the states through block grants. Although this money is intended for shoring up educational technology, it is left to the states to decide what to invest in. It should remove the perception that the federal government is trying to control public education.
The district procurement process could be shortened by changes to funding by removing one or more of the approval layers. Now that the states will be in charge of how the money is spent, district-level activities assume greater importance. This is an opportunity for marketers to assist district leaders in presenting their case to the state education officials making the funding decisions.
A new competitive grant program within ESSA will fund the development and research of evidence-based innovative approaches to student learning. This is new money available to schools with fewer strings attached than some previous federal programs such as Race to the Top. Some companies currently assist their customers in applying for grants. This is an opportunity to begin or expand a grant program in addition to the general availability of new funds in the marketplace.
A geographic shift of funding is likely as the Title II teacher quality grants program, which now totals $2.3 billion, changes its funding formula. Education Week points out that by the time this funding change is fully implemented by 2023, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico could lose $10 million while California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas would gain an additional $10 million or more.
Alternative teacher training models provide both opportunity and controversy for education companies. California, which faces a teacher shortage, is one of the leaders in experimenting with teacher training outside the university system. It might also encourage residency programs where new teachers are paired with veterans for training for a year while they complete their coursework. Mentoring programs have been shown to reduce the number of teachers who leave the profession in the first years of their careers. So pairing a rookie and a veteran teacher has some precedence. However, there are lots of questions about how alternate training would be certified and important questions around accountability. It will be interesting to watch how the marketplace responds.
Other expansion opportunities include a greater emphasis on college and career standards as well as an expansion of early learning initiatives. Both of these opportunities can expand the marketplace, particularly as public schools systems add preschool to their K-12 programs.
Student privacy is still a hot topic. The ESSA recommends but does not mandate that the Department of Education revisit student privacy regulations. With regular data breaches in the news, districts are likely to increase rather than decrease their attention to protecting student identifiable data. Education companies have the opportunity to partner with their district customers and establish leadership on this issue.
States will welcome many of the changes in ESSA and actively look for partners who can help them navigate the new regulations and take advantage of new opportunities. Education companies can increase their value to their district customers by partnering with them to align their goals, objectives, and budgets with the new federal law.