Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) authorities convened with black publishers from around the country to discuss how to hold states accountable in assuring equity to its most vulnerable students.
During the 190th anniversary of the Black Press, the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA) with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation held a breakfast on Friday, March 24, at the Dupont Circle Hotel in Northwest to strategize against those who threaten to pigeonhole the federal education law.
“We have to continue to press our federal rights,” said Hilary O. Shelton, director of NAACP’s Washington bureau. “The new ESSA law does not have the same robust implementation that we’ve had before. What this means is that we still have to work hard to make sure the plan is right.
“But it’s not right if we’re not pushing the government to make sure they come up with the resources that we need,” he said. “They have more flexibility than ever before to undercut a lot of the gains that we have made even with the last three authorizations.”
Shelton said the NAACP is deeply worried about new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and how “our children” will be affected. He challenged the black and Hispanic publishers in the room to do diligent reporting, bringing the facts to its communities.
“You have to find out what your schools are in putting in their implementation plans before they are submitted to the Department of Education,” Shelton said. “Being able to report what that looks like before the implementation deadline day on April 3 is key.
“See exactly what officials in your local area have in store for our students,” he said. “I’d like to encourage you to monitor all that goes on along those lines. We’ve seen the tricks that get played throughout the country. We would like your stories to show what’s going on, on the ground so we can know what fight we have here in Washington, D.C.”
Susie Saavedra, senior director for policy and legislative affairs for the National Urban League’s Washington bureau, stressed how important ESSA is to communities of color.
“Education for the Urban League is the key to economic power and self sufficiency,” she said. “During the past few years we’ve been very engaged in education advocacy work through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
“You might wonder what role do civil rights organizations play in this space, but for the Urban League it’s the heart of our mission,” Saavedra said. “We serve communities that are underserved in today’s public school system. The demographics have shifted as we know — the majority is kids of color and kids that live in poverty.”
Kristen Amundson, president and CEO of the National State Board of Education, said that when President Lyndon B. Johnson first signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the goal had been to promote equity and equality.
“Now we have the passage of ESSA and a great deal of that power and authority is coming back to states,” Amundson said. “When I tell you that it is states that is going to have to be protectors of equity and equality I understand that is a big ask.
“The part about the legislation that is going to be so essential is the stakeholder engagement,” she said. “It spells out groups that needs to be involved in the implementation of states plans including State Boards of Education members and civil rights organizations.”
Amundson said that states are, more or less, doing that, though some of them have done better than others.
“Now next month states are going to file their plans,” she said. “The real question is going to become is the stakeholder engagement one and done, or is this going to become a set way states do business. My argument is [that] it has to become engrained in everything you do. If parents, teachers and civil rights organizations are at the table, they will hold schools accountable.”
Amundson said a simple way for anyone with a vested interest to engage lawmakers is to demand a seat at the table.
“This is not the prom — don’t wait to be asked,” she said.