Psychologists Invited to the Table to Guide Use of Federal Funds

From ESEA to ESSA:

For you policy-wonks out there, psychologists included, you certainly are aware that Congress passed, with bi-partisan support, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

This law, like previous versions, provides the scaffolding for our federal investment in K-12 education.  The law directs how the federal funds are to be used.  And in general, the law continues its historic focus on targeting federal funds to low-income, high-need schools, by formula, in an effort to provide more equal access to a high-quality education for all students.

The No Child Left behind Act, which ESSA replaces, mandated a strong, prescriptive, directed federal role in education.  It required testing in specific grades, included specific accountability targets and outlined specific remedies if school districts did not make “adequately yearly progress.”   The passage of ESSA ushers great change in areas of accountability and decision-making.  While the law still requires testing in certain grades and demands that academic progress be measured by subgroups of students, federal hands are otherwise tied.  States have the leading role in this adaptation of the “play” and State and local education leaders are the stars of this stage.

A Shift in Decision-Making Power: What Will This Mean?

What is the impact of shifting decision-making and the control of the purse-strings to State and local leaders?   What will it mean for local school districts to have more flexibility in how federal funds are used in classrooms?  No one is sure for certain.  The implementation of the new law is a topic of great interest and discussion in Washington, DC.  But what we do know is that Governors, Chief State School Officers and Superintendents will be largely in charge and, thanks to a little federal nudge, turning to local education experts for advice, direction and recommendations.

In another important and related change, the new law seeks that input from a variety of actors in the school more directly.  Recommendations put forward by National Alliance of Specialized Instructional Support Personnel (NASISP), a coalition that APA is actively engaged with, called for increased opportunities for school psychologists and other specialized instructional support personnel, to be more integral in the development of State and local plans throughout the law.  These recommendations were included in the final version of the legislation signed by the President.  The law now uses the term, “specialized instructional support personnel,” defines the term and includes the term more deliberately and strategically in the law.  State and local plans are elevated in the new law.  These plans outline how federal funds will be used locally to achieve broad educational goals like ensuring that all children receive a high-quality education and to close the achievement gap between groups of students, with greater latitude given to local leaders.

How Can Psychology Participate?

These plans can and will be better with contributions from psychology.  Local schools can and will benefit from the research and practice expertise of psychologists.  This new legislation invites specialized “specialized instructional support personnel,” including school psychologists, to have a seat at the table.  But in order to affect change, to ensure that the local school districts efforts draw on the expertise of psychologists and psychological research, this invitation cannot be declined.  You need to RSVP.

What Can You Do as a PsyAdvocate, an Engaged Community Member and a Leader in Education Research?

stay informed


Read the guidance and check in periodically with APA Education GRO website, Department of Education website.

Learn more about the National Alliance of Specialized Instructional Support Personnel or NASISP.

 be engaged

Seek partnerships with educational leaders in your State to help develop state plans, in a consultative role, as outlined in the new law.  Who are these educational leaders?  They are the Chief State School Officer or an education policy advisor in the Governor’s Office.  You can reach out to the local school district superintendent or a member of your local school board.

 reach out

Seek opportunities to be part of peer-review teams at the federal level.  The peer review teams will have responsibility for reviewing and approving State plans.  APA can help forward your name to federal policy-makers.

Access APA’s PsyAdvocates: A Psychologists Guide to Federal Advocacy for more information about federal advocacy.  Talk to your State Senator or State Representative and tell her or him you would like to be involved in how federal education dollars are spent at the local level.  If you currently work in or with a school, talk to teachers or principals there.

 act locally

Find out more about planning at the local level and seek to partner with the local education agency to provide meaningful consultation to the local educational agency, and inform the plan with the research and practice expertise of psychology and psychologists.  Go to local meetings, or consider running for school board yourself!

 share your expertise

Engage in the planning, provide meaningful consultation, or share relevant research related to programs dedicated to serving low-income students, gifted and talented students, English language learners, school climate or teacher professional development, for example.  The work and research you are doing can make a difference to your local community.

About the Author

Jennifer Smulson
Jennifer is a self-proclaimed policy wonk having worked in the field of education policy on Capitol Hill for a decade and is still doing what she loves for APA’s Government Relations Office. She is inspired by the amazing work of psychologists and the many applications of psychology to the areas of teaching and learning. Jennifer holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University in Washington, DC.