Articles from January, 2004

New web site breaks down state data

Federal, state, and private education leaders launched a Web site Thursday that promises unprecedented access to information about public school performance. The site,, will serve as a clearinghouse for new state report cards on education, including data broken down to the school district and school building. The U.S. Department of Education and The Broad Foundation are sharing the $9 million cost of the project’s first phase. Six states are the first to take part: Delaware, Florida, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington. Organizers hope to post data from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico by summer.

Erin Walsh|January 30th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

STATE OF THE UNION: Going too far with drug testing?

Part III of our school drug testing “mini-series”: Acting on President Bush’s State of the Union announcement, Rep. John Peterson (R-Pa.) has proposed legislation to provide funding to public and private schools for drug testing programs.

True to the President’s speech, the bill aims at helping students, rather than punishing them: Test results would only be made available to parents and school officials, not law enforcement officials. It also takes a smart approach on something BoardBuzz discussed yesterday: Participating programs must include drug abuse prevention training for all students and staff members, as well as various confidential support services for students.

But Peterson’s proposal raises a big question: It says nothing about testing only students who participate in athletics or other extracurriculars, which the Supreme Court, with urging from NSBA, has upheld. “In my view, I’d like to see everybody tested,” Peterson says. The bill simply requires that programs use random drug testing “consistent with the fourth amendment to the Constitution.” Students would have to submit to testing unless their parents opt out.

It is unclear from all this whether federal officials really intend all students to be subject to testing. “That would ignore the critical distinction federal and state courts consistently have made between making drug tests a condition of participating in optional activities and making them a condition of enrollment,” says NSBA General Counsel Julie Underwood. Based on court holdings, she says, the latter approach probably would encroach on students’ rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. It’s not clear legally how a parental opt-out would remedy violations of student rights. As Judge Kenneth F. Ripple of the U.S. 7th Circuit wrote in striking down one district’s policy, “[T]he case has yet to be made that a urine sample can be the ‘tuition’ at a public school.”

Erin Walsh|January 30th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Local board member emulates FRN model with public school parents

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we’re flattered. The Times-Picayune reports that Jefferson Parish (Louisiana) School Board President Gene Katsanis is creating a web-based network of powerful lobbyists—parents!—to advocate for their schools in the Louisiana Legislature. Katsanis said the network is modeled after NSBA’s Federal Relations Network (FRN), of which he is a member. The district, an NSBA National Affiliate, wants each of its schools to find at least three parents to participate. What a great idea! Good luck to Katsanis, the Jefferson Parish district, and Louisiana’s families.

Erin Walsh|January 30th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

UPDATE: Federal Relations Network Conference begins this weekend

NSBA’s 31st annual Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference begins Sunday, Feb. 1, in Washington, D.C. Eight hundred school board members from across the U.S.A. will get up to speed on the latest federal activity and then head to Capitol Hill to lobby on behalf of America’s public school children. This year’s theme, “Accountability: A Two Way Street—Required of Schools, Required of Congress,” comes at a perfect time. Congress just completed work on the fiscal year 2004 budget for schools, and President Bush’s FY2005 budget recommendations for schools will be released Monday.

We are pleased to announce that Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) will speak at the conference on Monday, Feb. 2. Rep. Upton and Sen. Landrieu will address school board members at our Congressional Awards Luncheon between 12:45 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. Sen. Hagel will speak at about 4:30 p.m. during our General Session.

NSBA’s legislative priority issues this year include increasing federal funding, reauthorizing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), addressing the unintended consequences of the No Child Left Behind Act, and reauthorizing the school lunch program.

Questions? Please contact Kathleen Branch or Heather Eggleston of NSBA’s Advocacy staff.

Erin Walsh|January 30th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

STATES: California budget deal, Mississippi politics, Florida education commission

California School Boards Association president David Pollack talks about that state’s education funding deal; Southern Mississippi school boards are leaning on legislators to come through for schools; And Florida School Boards Association initiated a statewide effort to define that state’s constitutional responsibility to public education.

Erin Walsh|January 29th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Does drug testing work?

Continuing our analysis of President Bush’s call for increased federal funds for drug testing in schools: If your school board considers adopting a student drug testing policy, chances are you’ll be hearing a lot about a 2003 study of such programs by the University of Michigan. The study, of unprecedented sampling and prestige, purported to show that drug testing does little to prevent student drug abuse.

But as NSBA Senior Staff Attorney Naomi Gittins pointed out to reporters when the study came out, the study only compared districts with testing programs to districts without; it did not focus on before-and-after comparisons to show whether individual school boards had been successful at using drug testing to protect children in their communities from known drug problems. Moreover, because high quality drug testing programs are so costly, some critics of the study surmise that it may have shown nothing more than that most school districts don’t do a very good job. Other school officials feel strongly that drug testing has been effective for them.

For a school board to decide whether drug testing is the most effective use of its money, it may have to rely more on its own judgment and expertise about the community it serves than on research like the Michigan study. NSBA Director of School Health Programs Brenda Z. Greene says the research on both sides of the debate still leaves much to be desired. “Like drug testing itself, an effective study is expensive and time-consuming,” she explains. The research is clear about one thing, though: Students who are connected to their schools, families, and community are much less likely to abuse drugs. “Drug testing may in fact help,” Greene says. “But it should be part of a comprehensive program of prevention, education, and counseling, and not come at the expense of such efforts.” Since often the students who are tested are those who take part in extracurricular activities, testing may miss the very kids who are most at risk. To read more research on this topic check out the web site of the National Student Drug-Testing Steering Committee.

Sessions on student rights and advances in student drug testing technology will be among the program offerings at NSBA’s 64th Annual Conference in Orlando, March 27-30.

Friday: Taking drug testing too far?

Erin Walsh|January 29th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

The federal credibility gap on “unspent funds”

As more and more financially struggling states have called on Congress to adequately fund the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the U.S. Department of Education and the Bush administration responded by accusing states of sitting on nearly $6 billion in unspent federal funds. Now the states, after reviewing their books, are taking the federal government to task for spreading “inaccurate” and “misleading” information.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) disputes the federal government’s claims in an 8-point memo, noting that federal appropriations are forward funded, states have more than two years to spend the funds, and states “obligate” funds far in advance. In other words, the money is already spoken for, consistent with federal rules. NCSL also notes that Congress often is late-as it was this year by nearly three months -in passing spending bills. In fact, for two years running, Congress has been late by an entire one-quarter of the fiscal year in appropriating schools funds. From the NCSL memo: “In the most recent closeout of funds, the U.S. Department of Education reports about one-half of one percent (O.5%) of K-12 funds available that fiscal year was returned to the U.S. Treasury ($150 million of $30 billion on federal K-12 appropriations).”

The Michigan Department of Education refuted federal government claims that it had returned almost $225 million in unused funds. “We haven’t been able to get an answer from the federal government yet as to how and why it used the figures it did, but it certainly doesn’t reflect what we do here in Michigan,” the state’s education budget director said. Checking its own numbers and using the programs cited by the U.S. Department of Education, Michigan found that it spent fully 99.22 percent of its federal school dollars.

Meanwhile, the Iowa Department of Education in a letter (not available online) to U.S. Secretary Rod Paige shreds the claim that Iowa has $39 million in education funds just lying around. Listing the millions Iowa has obligated to various programs such as Title I and IDEA, the state department says its records indicate an unspent balance of merely $600,000-not $39 million. The letter goes on to point out that funding that already is obligated to schools is not legally available to cover additional NCLB costs. “In light of your knowledge of these facts, your accusations regarding states’ use of federal funds are unwarranted and misleading, and surely will erode the progress you have made to date in partnering with states to improve student achievement,” wrote Ted Stilwill, director of Iowa’s DOE.

Quite so. As we’ve said before, a challenge as monumental as NCLB requires the kind of credible leadership that inspires confidence among state officials, school boards, administrators, educators, and parents. Instead, this kind of misinformation contributes to the growing federal credibility gap. That only undermines NCLB’s promise for all of America’s children.

Erin Walsh|January 29th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

VOUCHERS: Florida offers states many lessons

NSBA likes to say that the more the public learns about vouchers the less it likes them. Polls and public referenda back that claim. So does the ongoing saga of Florida’s voucher programs, under fire yet again from in-state news media such as the Palm Beach Post.

One effort, the McKay program for children with disabilities, is often touted by voucher advocates as a model for other states. It even got mention on Capitol Hill last year during debate on IDEA reauthorization. Congress wisely rejected a similar federal plan in bi-partisan votes. But the voucher lobby wants a few state legislatures, Colorado and Utah, to adopt similar programs. BoardBuzz will keep you posted on developments there, but lawmakers would do their constituents a multi-million dollar favor by reading up on the McKay program, which, as the Post reports, is facing an overhaul. NSBA reviewed a study of the McKay program last year and noted that students relinquish their IDEA rights and that there is no information available on student achievement. And just last month, all of Florida’s voucher programs faced withering criticisms in an audit by the state’s Republican chief financial officer.

Erin Walsh|January 28th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

STATES: Missouri School Boards Association opposes teacher layoff penalty

“Legislation that would penalize school districts for laying teachers off near the start of a school year has caused concern among superintendents and school boards,” reports Associated Press. “Senate Education Committee heard testimony Tuesday on a bill that would require districts to make layoffs no more than 30 days after the governor signs the state education budget. Lobbyists for Missouri’s school boards and administrators said (the) bill would unfairly tie the hands of local school officials. They said a 30-day deadline is not enough, especially for districts that rely more on local funding than on state aid.

“The bill would require districts to pay teachers one-fourth of their salaries if they are laid off between 30 and 60 days after the state education budget becomes law, and half their salaries if the action happens beyond 60 days but before half of the school year is completed … Chris Straub, a lobbyist for Missouri School Boards Association, said the bill could have unintended consequences, such as school districts simply not renewing the contracts of teachers on probation but rehiring them once the budget picture is clear. Also, he said, imposing a 25 percent penalty could actually lead to additional layoffs, because it would cost the district to let teachers go.”

Erin Walsh|January 28th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

More federal money

President Bush has proposed a $23 million increase in federal support for student drug testing. NSBA has twice submitted amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting local school districts that choose to implement drug testing policies. NSBA also recently hosted an audio conference on the issue for its National Affiliate school districts featuring White House and other administration officials. These officials, and President Bush himself, have emphasized that such programs should not be punitive but instead be aimed at helping children who have this problem.

One reason fewer than one in five schools have programs is that reliable drug testing is very expensive. More federal support for schools that need help fighting drug abuse is certainly welcome and commendable. Still, given the shape most school budgets are in and the chronic underfunding of all those federal programs that are mandatory, not optional, we wish more funding were available without the strings attached. Maybe we would be better off letting local school boards decide whether they have more urgent needs than federal pet projects like drug testing and abstinence-only education. As NSBA General Counsel Julie Underwood told USA Today, “When you are trying to choose between drug testing and buying textbooks, many schools choose textbooks.”

Thursday: The debate over whether drug testing works.
Friday: A proposal to test every student for drugs?

Erin Walsh|January 28th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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