ESSA & the presidential transition: A Q&A with Dr. David Holbrook about what to watch


The election of Donald Trump and the presidential transition presents a number of unknown scenarios for school districts and educators across the country, with many questions surrounding education legislation, federal education funding, and immigration enforcement.

In this blog, Dr. David Holbrook, a nationally-recognized leader in federal programs administration and monitoring, sheds light on many of the potential changes facing U.S. educators, including the impact of the lame-duck session of Congress on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), potential changes to guidance and regulations for Titles I, II and III, and how school districts are preparing for issues related to possible deportation. 

Will the lame-duck session of Congress impact education legislation?

Dr. Holbrook: There’s a provision in place that says the President can strike regulations or guidance that has already been posted if Congress passes a resolution to rescind the guidance.  

This is a possible scenario, especially for the Title I regulations. Another area that might be affected are the regulations for Accountability and State Plans. However, it is more likely the Trump administration would re-write the Accountability and State Plans regulations rather than rescind them.


The proposed regulations for Accountability and State Plans came out in May, and the final regulations were posted November 28th. If Congress rescinds these regulations, it could lead to confusion about how to submit plans and what information they should include. The final regulations (in November) changed the timelines for state plans from either March 2017 or July 2017 to April 2017 and September 2017. If these regulations are rewritten, it would need to be done quickly to avoid upsetting states who are currently dedicating significant resources to get state plans submitted by the deadlines.

Just about anything the department has done for ESSA or will do before the current administration’s term is over could be overturned. I’m not saying it will be, but uncertainty exists.

What will happen to Titles I, II and III?

I don’t see any immediate changes. Changing Title I, II or III would require an amendment to ESSA, and the way the stars needed to align to get reauthorization passed, an amendment to ESSA is unlikely. If changes were to happen, we would probably see a move towards creating more of a block-grant structure like we have in Title IV.

Title IV took a number of programs that were of special interest to individual members of Congress because they were important to their particular constituents, and combined them into a single block grant that would allow those member-constituents to use the funds for the project they choose. Leaders would receive a certain amount of money and a menu of what it can be used for. Depending on the amount of money, certain amounts may need to be used for specific initiatives.

What factors did President-elect Trump consider during the selection process for Secretary of Education?

One of the plans Trump proposed was a $20 billion investment in school choice and his nomination of Betsy DeVos, a Michigan school choice activist, is consistent with the administration’s plan to make school choice a priority.

DeVos and other rumored candidates, Luke Messer of Indiana and Michelle Rhee, formerly of Washington D.C., are all advocates of school choice. Messer advised and helped develop Trump’s school choice plan and his selection would have indicated vouchers, charter schools and school choice are high on the administration’s agenda. While Messer wasn’t selected, I think selecting Betsy DeVos sends the same message.

How are school districts preparing for potential changes in immigration legislation?

There’s a lot of concern in schools and districts over what’s going to happen in regards to the campaign promises to deport illegal immigrants. I know there are policies being put in place in certain school districts outlining how to handle things if federal immigration agents show up at the school and want to pull students out.

Districts want to protect students and they are taking steps to ensure that students’ right are not violated. Those students have Civil Rights, even if they are not in the country legally, so districts will not automatically give agents free access to the school and the students.  What the schools are trying to do is come up with a policy to make sure that immigration enforcement does not overstep its authority.

Among training on district processes, districts are learning what documentation immigration agents need to present in order to prove a student is an illegal immigrant and should be deported. While President-elect Trump backed off a bit on the deportation rhetoric, there’s still a lot of concern.

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Alyssa Thornley

About The Author

Alyssa Thornley has spent her career working to support schools and communities in providing opportunity to all students. In positions as a teacher, professional development coordinator, and as a volunteer, she has focused on the community’s role in education, and in designing efficient programs that work for diverse needs. Alyssa leads TransACT’s customer engagement and market strategy efforts, and works to ensure innovative programs, guidance, and thought leadership from across the country’s districts are being shared and spread.