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CRAMER: House Passes Disapproval Resolutions on Two Education Regulations

Feb 7, 2017
Press Release

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Feb. 7, 2017

Contact: 202-578-9428

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Congressman Kevin Cramer supported two resolutions passed by the House of Representatives today disapproving regulations infringing on the rights of states and local communities to determine their own education standards.

H.J. Res. 57 rolls back a regulation by the Department of Education which constrains and hampers states’ flexibility in developing state-based accountability systems that result in annual school evaluations.

H.J. Res. 58 stops a Department of Education regulation establishing burdensome federal mandates for criteria states use to evaluate teacher preparation programs that are tied to financial aid received by students who commit to teaching math, science, foreign language or reading at a high-need school.

In 2015, Congress passed, and President Barack Obama signed, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This replaced the one-size-fits-all approach to K-12 education mandated under the former No Child Left Behind Act with new reforms to empower state and local leaders to make education decisions in the best interest of their students.

Cramer said the two education regulations issued by the Obama Administration late last year violate the intent of the ESSA by stripping power from the states. “These regulations put more education decisions in the hands of federal bureaucrats in Washington than our local parents and educators. They are a step backward from the intent of the Every Student Succeeds Act to give greater control to the those closest to the students,” he said. “This is why it’s important we confirmed Betsy DeVos. This is why it’s important to put power back in the hands of states.”

He said parents and teachers trust states more than the federal bureaucracy for a very good reason. “We have gotten rid of Common Core standards as being implemented by the federal government, being forced by the federal government and being coerced by the federal government,” he said. “We now have an Education Secretary who will see to it we get rid of Common Core standards. Now it’s up to the states to do the same. This simply puts that power back to where that power belongs, with the people we can trust at the state and local level.”  

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) provides an expedited legislative process for Congress to disapprove of administrative rules through joint disapproval resolutions. Regulations issued by executive branch departments and agencies, independent agencies and commissions, are subject to CRA disapproval resolutions.  Under this law, there is a 60-day period in which to pass a resolution of disapproval from when the rule is reported to Congress.  When both the Senate and House pass a disapproval resolution that is signed by the President, the rule either does not go into effect or is considered as not having gone into effect. 

H.J. Res. 57 Background

Repeals a final regulation issued by the Department of Education on November 29, 2016, relating to state accountability plans.

The ESSA’s core provisions under Title I empower states to develop accountability systems within broad parameters that result in annual school evaluations. These evaluations provide parents and communities critical information about their schools. Under the law, states are required to submit their accountability systems to the Department of Education as part of a state plan. The law also includes specific provisions limiting the Secretary’s ability to create new requirements for such accountability systems not contained in the statute.

The regulation contained a number of provisions that significantly expanded the law’s requirements and violated the statute’s prohibitions against overreach by the Secretary of Education. The Obama Administration’s purpose for these new requirements was to constrain states’ flexibility in developing appropriate accountability systems for their states. Should these regulations go forward, more schools will be identified as failing and in need of intervention than would be required if the statute was faithfully implemented.

Examples of executive overreach in the rule are:

  • Assessment Participation Rate – ESSA allows states to determine how to hold schools accountable for assessing at least 95 percent of all students. The regulation limits states to four options and requires schools to implement a plan to address low test participation.
  • Targeted Support Identification – The statute expects states to identify schools for targeted support when a subgroup of students is “consistently underperforming” and says explicitly “as determined by the state.” However, the final rule defines “consistently” to mean over a two- year period unless the state can prove a longer timeline is appropriate.
  • Teacher Performance – ESSA explicitly prohibited the Secretary from mandating the creation of teacher evaluation systems. This regulation requires states to establish a statewide definition for “ineffective teacher” that differentiates between categories of teachers. It would be almost impossible for states to fulfill this requirement without implementing a teacher and school leader evaluation. This would return states to the No Child Left Behind days of judging teachers by their students’ test scores, which ESSA eliminated.
  • Accountability Indicator Weights – ESSA includes minimal parameters to ensure states give greater weight in their accountability systems to academic indicators than non-academic indicators. However, within those parameters, the statute gives states flexibility to determine the weights of each indicator. This regulation maintains the flexibility, but requires states to give schools with the lowest score on an academic indicator a lower rating than a school performing at the highest level on all of the academic indicators. The effect of this regulation will  be to overemphasize the importance of test scores, which ESSA intentionally avoided.
  • N Size – ESSA requires states to establish and report an N size (the N size is the number of subgroup students that must be present in a school before data on the subgroup is reported) for subgroup accountability and prohibits the Department from prescribing an N size. This regulation allows states to set their own N size, but states setting an N size higher than 30 have to report information on the number and percentage of schools not being held accountable for each subgroup because of the higher N size. This encroachment on state flexibility will increase the number of schools in which states and school districts will have to intervene.

H.J. Res. 58 Background

Repeals a final regulation issued by the Department of Education on October 12, 2016, relating to teacher preparation programs.

Title II of the Higher Education Act (HEA) provides funding to support teacher preparation programs. Almost 500,000 individuals were enrolled in traditional and alternative route certification teacher prep programs in 2013-14. The title’s biggest program, the Teacher Quality Partnership Grants, provided approximately $42.5 million in funding to 28 grantees in fiscal year 2016. The law requires teacher prep programs provide certain information to the states. Data collected from these programs include pass rates on state licensure exams, admission criteria, hours of clinical experience, and number of full-time equivalent faculty. States must submit their report card on the quality of their teacher prep programs annually to the Department of Education, and the Department then publishes a national report card.

TEACH Grants, funded under Title IV of the HEA, provide financial assistance to high-achieving students who commit to teaching math, science, foreign language, or reading at a high-need school. In this instance, a high-need school is defined as having at least 30 percent of its students in poverty. The statute mandates recipients of the grants attend an institution that “provides high-quality teacher preparation and professional development services.

Using regulatory fiat, federal officials have tied teacher prep program evaluations to outcome-based performance measures and limited the use of TEACH grants to students who attend an “effective” teacher preparation program as defined in the regulation.

To determine the effectiveness of a teacher prep program, the regulation requires states to track new teachers across three performance levels: (1) student learning outcomes, (2) employment outcomes, and (3) employer surveys. States have limited flexibility to determine how to measure students’ learning outcomes. The employment outcomes would measure both teacher placement and retention rates. States must administer an employer survey to capture perceptions about first-year teachers to determine if they have the skills necessary to succeed. The regulation specifies the employer survey must collect qualitative and quantitative data. Programs that do not meet their state’s requirement to be “effective” for at least two of the previous three years will have federal aid.

Critics of this regulation, including the American Council on Education and the School Superintendents Association, cite federal overreach by the Department of Education as a primary concern. Additionally, there are significant concerns about the capacity of states to use value-added data to track teacher effectiveness back to teacher prep programs. Changing the focus of TEACH grants by tying eligibility for student aid to the rating of a teacher prep program would be a stark departure from the historical federal role in higher education, which is to provide access as outlined in the law.