ESSA Update: State Plans

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law on December 10, 2015, reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) which funds Title I, Title II, and Title IV, etc. Under ESSA, states and local education agencies can utilize federal education resources to support and enhance arts education funding based on local needs. One key element of ESSA implementation is the development of state accountability plans to be submitted to the US Department of Education (ED).

Under Secretary Betsy DeVos, ED has maintained that states can submit their consolidated state plans on the same dates as previously announced under the previous Administration: April 3, 2017 and September 17, 2017. Thus far, the following states have submitted: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington, DC. A number of states, including Colorado, plan to submit a revised plan in May 2017.

In the initial round of ESSA State plans submitted in April, we are beginning to see promising efforts of States seeking to embed well-rounded education and the arts into their State plans. Here are a few examples:

  • Illinois incorporates in its state plan a “fine arts indicator” for both P–8 and 9–12 grades, which includes participation of students in fine arts courses as identified in their Student Information System. While the “fine arts indicator” is not currently weighted in their accountability system, their plan states that for the next four years, data for the fine arts will serve as a foundation for exploring if a more nuanced and/or weighted indicator can be developed for inclusion in future iterations of the accountability system. They noted that part of the reason for not weighing the fine arts indicator at this time is to not be punitive towards districts which lack the means to fund arts offerings.
  • Connecticut lists out visual arts, drama, dance, media arts and music as examples of curricular areas through which students can access a well-rounded education and rigorous coursework. Connecticut’s state plan also highlights the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21CCLC) program funding as a way to offer well-rounded educational opportunities including “art and music” opportunities. The state plan also highlights “arts access” as an indicator from Connecticut’s existing Next Generation Accountability System to best ensure that schools are providing a high-quality holistic education for its preK-12 students.
  • New Jersey requires 21CCLCs to focus on one of a list of themes including the “visual and performing arts” and increase students’ career and college readiness through enrichment activities including “arts and culture.” It lists enrollment and availability of arts curriculum as currently included in school performance reports and state that it “will consider” in future performance reports enrollment in arts curriculum by subgroup, the arts teacher/student ratio as well as the full-time equivalent teacher assignments for each arts discipline. The state plan also lists “performing arts / fine arts” as an “other recommended indicator” and states that the NJDOE remains committed to collaborating with stakeholders to developing additional indicators that best reflect New Jersey’s priorities and have the most impact on improving student outcomes.

These are just a few emerging examples of ways states can use ESSA resources in their planning process to advance the arts and arts education. In addition to the above examples, other states called out their intent to address well-rounded education, with some stating their progress in revising state frameworks for arts curriculum, and others listing their state-wide arts advisory task forces which are available to assist in efforts around their states.

The importance of taking action to advance arts education through ESSA is further evidenced by the recently released Nation’s Report Card on Arts in 2016. Also known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the newly released NAEP arts scores show that Hispanic eighth-grade students scored higher in music in 2016 than in 2008 and that students eligible for the National School Lunch Program scored higher in the visual arts in 2016 compared with 2008. ESSA is an opportunity to build upon these gains and work to further ensure that all students have access to opportunities to participate in arts education regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, income and region.

Now is the time to engage with your state and highlight the ways the arts and arts education can be advanced through ESSA, especially if your state has not yet submitted its consolidated plan and intends to do so in September.