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Dec 19, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Department of Education Final Accountability Regulations Leave Many Policy Decisions for Disconnected Youth to States

By: Nia West-Bey

On November 29, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) issued final accountability regulations under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). CLASP’s comments on the proposed regulations sought to promote increased accountability for vulnerable and out-of-school youth. Although the final rules contain several wins for this population of youth, there were significant missed opportunities to strengthen federal policy directives to better support these students.

In line with CLASP’s recommendations, the final rule was revised to include students as “required stakeholders” for the development of comprehensive and targeted support and improvement plans, acknowledging that “directly involving students in developing school improvement plans, particularly in the case of older students, could ensure that a school’s plan represents the perspectives of those who will be most directly impacted by its implementation.”

The final regulations also maintain graduation rates as a key accountability factor, describing targeted and comprehensive support and improvement activities for high schools graduating less than two thirds of their students or of any key sub-group of students. The regulations also clarify the calculation of high school graduation rates and which students must be included in the calculation, which ensures accountability is maintained for students who leave school. Acknowledging the importance of educational programs that primarily serve young people who are dropping back into school or are significantly over-age and under-credited, the final rule allows for differentiated improvement activities for these programs. The final rule also encourages coordination of the state plan with other key programs, including those in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act.

In addition, the final regulations maintain the proposed rule’s accountability requirements for key groups of vulnerable youth, including youth in foster care, homeless youth, and those in the justice system. Specifically, the final rule requires data disaggregation on all accountability indicators reported by schools, districts, and states for low-income youth, youth of color, and youth who have been in foster care or are homeless. Required reporting on outcomes for each of these groups that typically experience poor educational outcomes helps to support equity and enables states to target resources to the students with the greatest need.

The rule includes several provisions to support justice-involved youth; it requires states to develop a plan for transferring records and credits to facilitate increased educational continuity and only recognizes transfers to educational programs in juvenile justice facilities as valid if they can be reasonably expected to lead to a high school diploma. The rule also requires states to plan for providing and funding transportation for foster and homeless youth so they can remain in their home schools.

Despite recommendations from CLASP and other advocates, ED declined to make changes to the final rules on a range of topics, leaving many decisions to states and school districts. For example, states are responsible for generating lists of evidence-based interventions for targeted/comprehensive support and improvement, selecting school climate indicators for inclusion in their accountability systems, and

considering additional groups (such as justice-involved youth or pregnant and parenting teens) for data disaggregation. States also need to develop and submit plans to secure grant funding to meet the special needs of high-risk populations or to address school climate factors that contribute to pushing students out of school such as exclusionary discipline practices, bullying, and harassment.

Despite the helpful provisions that can support better educational outcomes for vulnerable youth and the substantial choices and flexibility left to the states, there is a risk that these rules will never take effect. Under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), passed in 1996 as a part of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” Congress has the opportunity to use an expedited process to overturn regulations finalized by the Obama Administration since late spring 2016. The Senate Republican Policy Committee has included the ESSA accountability regulations on a short list of regulations that it intends to target under the CRA, claiming, “the department’s final rules are too prescriptive, conflict with congressional intent, and violate explicit prohibitions on the secretary’s authority to regulate.” If the accountability regulations are overturned through this process, ED is prohibited from creating a substantially similar regulation at any point in the future.

States are required to consult with stakeholders as they develop and finalize their state education plans for the 2017-2018 school year. Advocates for opportunity youth should prepare to engage with state and local education leaders to ensure that their plans make good choices on behalf of youth disconnected from school or at heightened risk of dropping out. CLASP will continue our efforts to support this advocacy work and to keep stakeholders informed throughout 2017.

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