Supplement Not Supplant Is Dead

The U.S. Department of Education yesterday killed their draft rule for Title I funding in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) known as “Supplement, Not Supplant.” It’s not an issue that we’ve written a whole lot on here, but it highlighted one way that the Secretary of Education could gut any flexibility members of Congress thought they had when they passed ESSA.

If you were not familiar with the rule it basically said that  in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as recently revised by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), that federal funds must supplement, and may not supplant, state and local funds. Civil rights activists and department bureaucrats were concerned that federal funding would replace state and local funding to the detriment of lower-income schools.

“For too long, the students who need the most have gotten the least,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr said in a released statement announcing the proposed rule last Summer. “The inequities in state and local funding that we see between schools within districts are inconsistent not only with the words ‘supplement-not-supplant’ but with the civil rights history of that provision and with the changes Congress made to the law last year. No single measure will erase generations of resource inequities, and there is much more work to do across states and districts to address additional resource inequities, but this is a concrete step forward to help level the playing field and ensure compliance with the law.”

Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, during her confirmation hearing on Tuesday also expressed concern with this proposed rule and promised to enforce ESSA in way that “Congress has intended.”

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee Chairman Todd Rokita (R-IN) issued a joint statement praising the decision.

This is a significant victory for students, parents, and school leaders across the country. The department’s regulatory scheme would have violated the law and unleashed serious harm on some of our nation’s poorest schools and communities. While this is encouraging news, we should never have faced the threat of this misguided regulatory proposal. We look forward to working closely with the new administration to ensure recent K-12 education reforms are implemented in a manner that respects the letter and intent of the law.

Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) also responded in a released statement:

I am glad the Education Department has listened to Congress and has chosen not to move forward with its proposed ‘supplement-not-supplant’ regulation. This proposal would have dictated from Washington how states and school districts should spend nearly all state and local tax dollars on schools in order to receive federal Title I dollars — which are only about 3 percent of total national spending on K-12 schools. A regulation like this is not authorized by law; in fact, it is specifically prohibited by law.

I look forward to working with the incoming Trump administration and Betsy DeVos, once confirmed, so we can ensure that the Every Student Succeeds Act is implemented as Congress wrote it, restoring control of public schools to states like Tennessee and to local communities.

So this is good news, but it would be even better news if Congress scraped ESSA altogether and sunset the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.