The perennial debate over local and federal roles in education shifted last December, when President Obama signed a measure returning to state and local governments much of the authority for improving low-performing schools and closing educational achievement gaps. The law already is triggering political fights over education spending and how to implement the measure. Neither Democrat Hillary Clinton nor Republican Donald Trump has emphasized education issues, but the ongoing push for education reform in the states could change that as the presidential election draws nearer. Meanwhile, two pending court cases could affect state laws dealing with teacher tenure and the rights of public-sector employees who decline union representation but are required to pay fees to cover the cost of union activities, including contract negotiations.
|People for and against teachers unions hold up signs in front of the Supreme Court in January as the court debated Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which dealt with whether public employees must pay union fees. The court deadlocked 4-4 on the case. (Getty Images/Mark Wilson)|
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law last December, replaced the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, which imposed testing and accountability measures to push school districts to improve student performance.
The new law requires that students be taught to college- and career-oriented standards. While ESSA allows state and local school systems to design their own methods to meet those standards, it retains the earlier law’s accountability measures, such as annual statewide assessments, to gauge student progress. ESSA also requires “accountability and action to effect positive change” in low-performing schools where graduation rates have been consistently low.