NASAA Notes: November 2016

November 5, 2016

New ESSA Guidance Released

With the election less than a week away and Congress out of session, this is a good opportunity to update readers on the status of implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Passed in December 2015, ESSA overhauled the nation’s preeminent law overseeing public education, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

As a quick refresher, there are many things the legislation does that NASAA strongly supports, including providing eligibility for arts programing to be funded in before- and after-school programming and inclusion of the arts within STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curricula. NASAA remained neutral regarding other provisions, one of which was the debate related to the appropriate role of the federal government in setting standards for subjects taught within public schools. Before ESSA, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) provided an acceptable menu of subjects (known as Core Academic Subjects) from which states could design their curricula and qualify for Title I funding. ESSA changed this dynamic by eliminating Core Academic Subjects altogether and instead granting states wide latitude in designing their own curricula. The role of the DOE was reduced to providing nonregulatory guidance to states on how to provide students with a “well-rounded education.”

When Congress passed the law, its definition of a well-rounded education included the arts. Therefore, NASAA and other arts organizations were very concerned when, over the summer, the DOE released a draft of its proposed guidance to states on implementing state standards under ESSA that omitted the arts entirely. NASAA filed comments with the DOE urging that the arts be explicitly identified as part of the definition of a well-rounded education; we will update you as soon as the DOE releases its next draft. While this development is disappointing, it is important to note that, because ESSA defers final decision-making authority to the states, it is not imperative that this guidance specifically include the arts. That being said, we still feel that this document could serve as an important blueprint to states trying to understand how to comply with the new law, and therefore we have urged the Obama administration to include the arts in its next proposal.

In the meantime, the DOE continues to release guidance related to other provisions within the law. Last month, it did so related to the creation of a new federal program created by passage of ESSA titled the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant Program, as well as for programs related to pre-K education. I am pleased to report that both incorporate the arts as eligible activities for funding.

As great as passage of ESSA was for expanding opportunity for the arts in public education, these events demonstrate that it was just the first step in an ongoing process that will require concerted focus and advocacy moving forward if we are to succeed in expanding the role of the arts in our children’s schools. Further complicating matters is that in January there will be a new administration in charge of implementing the new law. All of these factors mean that whether ESSA ends up powerfully impacting arts education will depend in large part upon how all of us work together over the next year or so to make sure it is implemented in a way that fully recognizes the arts. I encourage each state arts agency to make every effort to meet with leaders in your governor’s office and in your state department of education to talk about how you can collaborate on ESSA implementation to ensure that the arts are a robust part of your state’s education curricula moving forward.

In this Issue

From the CEO

State to State

Legislative Update

Research on Demand

More Notes from NASAA

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