Education Policy: ESSA

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) creates important opportunities for promoting health and wellness, focusing on the whole child and giving all students an equitable chance at academic success.

Leveraging New Education Law to Support Health and Learning

Federal policy plays a powerful role in shaping the school experience, particularly through setting priorities and providing funding for education. Now, a new federal education law holds the promise of prioritizing—and increasing access to resources for—health and wellness in schools.

In December 2015, President Obama signed into law the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This is the first major overhaul of our national education law since the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was signed into law in 2001.

ESSA recognizes the need for schools to support the whole child and specifically acknowledges the importance of mental health and wellness. The implementation of ESSA at the federal level and compliance with the new law by state educational agencies (SEAs) and local education agencies (LEAs), such as state boards of education and school districts, provides an opportunity to more fully integrate health and wellness into education policy and practice.

In short, ESSA can put policies into place that reflect what educators and parents know: healthy students are better prepared to learn and succeed.


Prioritizing Health State by State

Under ESSA, regulatory power shifts from the federal government to the states. As a result, our education system could look very different by the 2017-2018 school year, with different accountability systems and education funding priorities in every state.

Because states and school districts have significantly more authority and flexibility to create standards for accountability and regulate school performance, every state has a critical opportunity to put education policies into place that connect health and learning.

Learn more about HSC’s work at the state level and our specific work to support ESSA implementation in Illinois on the “What We’re Doing” tab.

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New Opportunities to Prioritize Health

ESSA provides multiple policy levers for promoting healthy schools and student wellness. Key opportunities are summarized below. For more detail, download HSC’s ESSA analysis.

Many of these opportunities are found in Title I, which provides funding to states and districts serving high numbers of children from low-income families; Title II, which supports professional development for educators and school personnel; and Title IV, a new grant that can be used to support student health and other academic enrichment programs.

State accountability systems: Under ESSA, each state is required to create an accountability system with at least four indicators of their choosing, including three academic indicators and one non-academic indicator such as chronic absenteeism or incidences of violence. Measurement of these non-academic indicators can help raise awareness of school health and wellness, both in terms of recognizing progress and highlighting areas of need.

School improvement: States must reserve seven percent of their Title I funding to support comprehensive support and improvement in the lowest performing schools. Given that students in the lowest performing schools are disproportionately affected by health conditions that hinder their ability to learn, ensuring health and wellness are a part of school improvement plans is a key strategy for supporting student success.

School-wide Title I programs: In schools where at least 40 percent of the students are from low-income families, funding from Title I and other sources may be consolidated and used for school-wide programs (rather than only for targeted support to students who are struggling), including health-related supports such as hiring a school nurse or implementing a strong physical education program. Services may be delivered by external providers, creating an opportunity for collaboration between the health and education sectors.

Early childhood programs and school readiness: ESSA includes a new focus on early childhood transitions and school readiness. This creates an opportunity to support health-related initiatives currently in place at the early childhood level as children transition to the K-12 school environment.

Parent and family engagement: LEAs must reserve one percent of their Title I funding to support parent and family engagement. This presents an important opportunity to ensure states and school districts support schools in engaging parents and families in creating healthy school environments.

Professional development: ESSA provides funding to support professional development for principals, teachers, early childhood educators and other school personnel. There is an opportunity to inform this professional development programming and ensure that school staff have the knowledge and skills needed to support student health and wellness.

Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants: ESSA consolidates 49 grant programs, some of which previously focused on student health, into a new grant program, called the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants. States and districts can use this to promote student health, increase access to well-rounded education and improve the use of technology. Examples include evidence-based drug and violence prevention programs; mental health services; and programs that support a healthy, active lifestyle.

Community support for school success: ESSA establishes funding for full-service Community Schools and Promise Neighborhoods, both of which provide a continuum of coordinated supports, services and opportunities for children from birth through entry into and success in postsecondary education and career attainment. Both present tremendous opportunities for collaboration between health and education.

Well-rounded education: The term “well-rounded education” in ESSA replaces the previous use of the term “core subject” in NCLB. The definition of well-rounded education includes health education and physical education. The emphasis on a well-rounded education creates an important opportunity to ensure state and district education authorities have the knowledge, resources and support to implement high quality health and physical education programs.

Educational equity: ESSA emphasizes the importance of ensuring educational equity for all children. For example, under ESSA, the purpose of Title I is “to provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable and high-quality education, and to close the academic achievement gaps.” Title II emphasizes the need to improve equitable access to quality teachers and Title IV highlights the importance of ensuring equitable access to programming. Providing a healthy school environment is a key element of achieving equity in education, particularly given the vast health disparities that can have an impact on education.


Emerging Efforts

Many efforts are currently underway to integrate health and wellness into education policy and practice; these efforts will help inform how states and school districts implement ESSA to maximize student health and wellness. For example, a number of school districts across the country have integrated health and wellness goals into their school improvement plans.

Emerging examples also show how states are planning to integrate health and wellness into the new state accountability systems. For example, Connecticut, which is in the process of developing a state accountability system that complies with ESSA, has 12 measures of school quality, including the percentage of chronically absent students and physical fitness. In California, some districts have worked on a local-level accountability system that uses a broad range of indicators to determine if a school is successful, including measures of students’ social-emotional skills and academic mindsets.

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Supporting Health through Policy Implementation

Healthy Schools Campaign is working at multiple levels to make sure schools are able to take full advantage of the opportunities to support health and wellness in ESSA. This includes:

  • National work, providing guidance to the federal government and national stakeholder organizations
  • State-level work, identifying opportunities and providing guidance for all states
  • Illinois-specific guidance and advocacy

National

Regulatory Process. HSC, in partnership with Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), regularly provides input to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on regulation and guidance to support states and school districts in incorporating health and wellness into ESSA. Recent public comments include:

  • August 1, 2016 – Comments on proposed regulations for Title I of ESSA, strongly encouraging ED to develop regulations that support the whole child and promote health and educational equity. Download the comments.
  • May 25, 2016 – Input on areas of ESSA for which ED can provide non-regulatory guidance to assist states, districts and other grantees in understanding and implementing the new law. Download the comments.
  • January 21, 2016 – Recommendations regarding implementation of programs under Title I of ESSA. Download the comments.

Stakeholder Engagement. This is an important time for anyone who cares about education, health and equity to make their voices heard.  HSC, often in partnership with TFAH, is creating fact sheets and guidance for specific stakeholder groups. Examples include:

Contact Alex Mays if you are interested in working with HSC on guidance for your group.

Health Impact Assessment. HSC, in partnership with Trust for America’s Health, is also working with PEW Charitable Trusts to conduct a Health Impact Assessment.


State Policy Opportunity: For All States

As ESSA transfers significant authority from the federal government to the state level, HSC is focused on supporting state-level educators in making the most of the opportunities presented by ESSA.

HSC and the Alliance for Healthier Generation have released State ESSA Plans to Support Student Health and Wellness: A Framework for Action. This document focuses on supporting advocates who are interested in working with state-level policymakers to develop state ESSA plans.

Key opportunities for incorporating health and wellness into ESSA state plans are summarized below. For more detail on these opportunities, download HSC’s ESSA State Policy Opportunity Overview.

State accountability systems: Each state is required to create an accountability system with at least four indicators of their choosing, including three academic indicators and one non-academic indicator such as chronic absenteeism or incidences of violence. Measurement of these non-academic indicators can help raise awareness of school health and wellness, both in terms of recognizing progress and highlighting areas of need.

State report cards: States must release an annual state report card describing how the state is meeting Title I requirements, including health-related measures such as rates of chronic absenteeism and incidences of violence, including bullying and harassment. Local districts have similar reporting requirements. These report cards can increase awareness of the connection between health and learning.

Needs assessments: ESSA requires school-level needs assessments for multiple initiatives. Ensuring that school-level needs assessments include a health and wellness component is a key strategy for better understanding the student health conditions in a given community and identifying areas for improvement in school health and wellness.

Equity: ESSA emphasizes the importance of ensuring educational equity for all children. Given the link between health, education and equity, understanding how to incorporate equity into state plans is important to addressing student health and wellness.

Professional development: ESSA provides funding to support professional development for principals, teachers, early childhood educators and other school personnel. There is an opportunity to inform this professional development programming and ensure that school staff have the knowledge and skills needed to support student health and wellness.

Evidence-based interventions: ESSA emphasizes the use of evidence-based interventions, including those related to health and wellness. While numerous evidence-based interventions for supporting student health and learning exist—including many from federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH)—there is a need to ensure states and school districts are aware of these interventions and know where to access information about them.

Early childhood provisions: ESSA calls for strategies for assisting preschool children in the transition from early childhood education programs to local elementary schools.

Transferability: Provisions within ESSA allow states and districts to redirect federal funds to programs that most effectively address the unique needs of the states and localities. As a result, there is a need to ensure that school leaders fully understand the value of funding provided for health and wellbeing and the importance of allocating this funding for its intended purpose.

Stakeholder engagement: ESSA provides important opportunities for engaging stakeholders, particularly in planning. There is a specific need to build school capacity to engage parents and families in efforts to create health-promoting school environments.

The opportunities presented by ESSA implementation can help to transform education to better support student health and wellness.


State Policy: Illinois

HSC is actively involved in advancing a state policy that incorporates health and wellness in Illinois.

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) is responsible for implementing ESSA in Illinois. Primarily, ISBE must create a state plan for implementing ESSA that includes a state accountability system and a plan for distributing federal education funds in accordance with ESSA. These funds, which are primarily directed to schools with a high proportion of low-income students, are meant to support achievement and promote equitable access to high-quality learning for students across Illinois.

Federal funding is available to create and implement school health programs, accountability systems that include non-academic metrics, professional development focusing on behavioral and mental health and school improvement for healthier school environments. HSC recommends that ISBE engage a wide range of stakeholders in the process of implementing ESSA, most significantly in the development and implementation of Title I state plans. HSC recommends that ISBE affirmatively create a state plan for the implementation of ESSA that prioritizes the health and wellness of Illinois students.

HSC has provided input to ISBE on this plan:

Learn more about how you can lend your voice to this effort on the “What You Can Do” tab.

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Support Health and Wellness in ESSA Implementation

Your voice matters in urging school leaders to leverage these opportunities and implement ESSA in ways that support student health.


Nationally

To stay informed and be alerted of opportunities to take action to strengthen the connection between education and learning in ESSA, sign up for HSC’s Health in Mind newsletter.


At the State Level

States have an opportunity to develop strategies and plans for implementing ESSA in ways that support student health and wellness. Advocates can play a key role in working with state-level policymakers to develop these state ESSA plans. HSC and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation have released a resource to support advocates who are interested in this effort. This document emphasizes several key areas with the greatest potential impact on student health. We invite you to learn more and access the resource, State ESSA Plans to Support Student Health and Wellness: A Framework for Action.


In Illinois

To communicate support of health and wellness in ESSA implementation, you can:

  • Attend a session of a Statewide Listening Tour on ESSA hosted by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). Updates on the dates, locations and times of the tour will be posted on the ISBE ESSA page.
  • Contact ISBE with your comments through email at essa@isbe.net.

For more information about ESSA implementation in Illinois or to get involved, please contact Ryan Mann.


Stay Connected!

We invite you to learn more and lend your voice to the dialogue about this issue. For questions or to discuss this issue, please contact Ryan Mann.

We encourage you to:


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ESSA Resources

Access related resources below, or go to our main Resource Center to access resources across all of our program and policy areas.

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State ESSA Plans to Support Student Health and Wellness: A Framework for Action

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) recognizes the vital role that health and wellness play in education. This document focuses on supporting advocates who are interested in working with state-level policymakers to develop state ESSA plans. It provides practical resources and emphasizes several key areas with the greatest potential impact on student health.

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Indicators of School Quality: Social and Emotional Learning

This document provides an overview of social and emotional learning as an indicator of school quality, particularly as it relates to state ESSA plans to support health and wellness.

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Indicators of School Quality: School Discipline

This document provides an overview of school discipline as an indicator of school quality, particularly as it relates to state ESSA plans to support health and wellness.

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Indicators of School Quality: School Connectedness

This document provides an overview of school connectedness as an indicator of school quality, particularly as it relates to state ESSA plans to support health and wellness.

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Indicators of School Quality: School Climate

This document provides an overview of school climate as an indicator of school quality, particularly as it relates to state ESSA plans to support health and wellness.

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Indicators of School Quality: Chronic Absenteeism

This document provides an overview of chronic absenteeism as an indicator of school quality, particularly as it relates to state ESSA plans to support health and wellness.

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Case Study: Tennessee / State ESSA Plan Resources

Beginning with the 2010-11 school year, Tennessee law began requiring the state department of education to develop parental involvement standards in public schools and to report compliance information for each LEA and public school on the Tennessee Department of Education Report Card. This document provides an overview of these standards as they relate to state ESSA plans to support health and wellness.

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Case Study: Chicago Public Schools / State ESSA Plan Resources

As part of an effort to remove health-related barriers to learning so that students may succeed in college, career and life, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) developed the Healthy CPS indicator. The Healthy CPS Indicator is the first comprehensive health-focused measure that is included on the CPS school progress report. This document provides an overview of the Healthy CPS indicator as it relates to state ESSA plans to support health and wellness.

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Case Study: Connecticut / State ESSA Plan Resources

Connecticut Commissioner of Education Dianna R. Wentzell says that the state’s new “next generation” accountability model “moves beyond test scores and graduation rates to provide a more holistic, multifactor perspective of district and school performance. It also shows where we need to invest more time and resources to help kids in the greatest need and where we can celebrate and share school success stories.” This document provides an overview of the systems used in Connecticut as they relate to state ESSA plans to support health and wellness.

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Case Study: California’s CORE Districts / State ESSA Plan Resources

The California Office to Reform Education (CORE) Districts was founded as an association of California’s largest urban school districts, now representing more than 1.7 million students. This document provides an overview of the accountability systems used in California's CORE Districts as they related to state ESSA plans to support health and wellness.