Articles from November, 2012

Judge: Louisiana school voucher law is unconstitutional

A Louisiana judge ruled Friday that the state’s voucher program is unconstitutional because it diverts taxpayer money to pay tuition at private and parochial schools for some students.

The lawsuit, which was brought by the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA), the state’s main teachers unions, and 43 public school boards, was supported by the National School Boards Association (NSBA). Gov. Bobby Jindal and state superintendent John White have announced that they will appeal the verdict, it is unclear whether the students who accepted the vouchers for this school year will stay in their current schools.

LSBA Legal Counsel Bob Hammonds argued the case on behalf of the school boards.

LSBA Executive Director Scott Richard issued a statement following the decision:

“On behalf of the Louisiana School Boards Association and 43 public school boards, we certainly respect the decision of the trial court; however, we know that this is only an initial step in a possibly prolonged legal process.

“School Boards had no desire to seek a legal remedy to the constitutional problems associated with the recent legislation in Act 2 and SCR 99/MFP, but had no choice due to the fact that these pieces of legislation were not properly vetted in the beginning of the legislative session; and, were unnecessarily fast-tracked for obvious reasons.

“LSBA remains committed to ensuring that all school boards perform their statutorily mandated directive to seek all funds available in order to provide quality educational services. We strongly believe that public tax dollars should not be diverted to private entities, especially given the current economic climate – and, this litigation begs the question as to the effectiveness of state-funding shell game called the Minimum Foundation Program.

“LSBA along with all school boards and our parent organization, NSBA, will continue to work to see this important litigation reach final resolution – for the children we are charged with serving.”

Joetta Sack-Min|November 30th, 2012|Categories: School Law, School Vouchers, State School Boards Associations|Tags: |

NSBA to Court: School officials must be given flexibility in handling student harassment

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is urging the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to rule that school districts should not be held financially liable for harassment related to a student’s disability if school officials took appropriate steps to stop it.

NSBA, along with the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA), the Alabama School Boards Association, and the Georgia School Superintendents Association, has filed an amicus brief in Long v. Murray County School District asking the court to uphold the standard set forth in the U.S. Supreme Court case Davis v. Monroe when determining whether school officials are liable under federal civil rights laws for peer harassment. The Davis precedent allows victims to collect monetary compensation when school officials are deliberately indifferent to known harassment based on a protected category that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive harassment that it denies the victim access to the educational program.

“It is important that the court recognize that local school officials, who work closely with students and parents on a regular basis, are knowledgeable about community resources, and understand their students’ educational and emotional needs, know best how to prevent and respond to harassment in their own schools,” said NSBA’s General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr.

The parents’ legal arguments rely on informal guidance given by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) through a October 2010 “Dear Colleague” letter that stated school district officials could be held responsible for claims of unreported harassment. In a December 2010 response to that letter, NSBA warned that the guidance overstepped the Supreme Court standard set by Davis and that it vastly expanded the definition of discrimination and harassment, circumventing precedent established by the courts. In a March 2011 letter to NSBA, OCR officials dismissed concerns that the guidance would lead to numerous and costly lawsuits against school districts; however, this case has proven otherwise.

“The federal government wants a one-size fits-all approach, but such a rule would require school districts to implement strategy after strategy even when the misconduct was isolated or minimal,” said Negrón. “The federal government’s approach creates an illusion of safety that would subject thousands of school districts to costly and unnecessary lawsuits diverting vital resources away from the classroom.”

Among other claims, the case will determine whether the Murray County school district in Georgia should be held liable under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act for money damages as a result of the suicide of a student with Asperger’s Syndrome. After the student reported incidents of peer bullying during his freshman and sophomore years, school officials responded effectively to all known occurrences at school. The student committed suicide at home during his junior year.

A date for oral argument date in the case has not been set yet. Phil Hartley and Martha Pearson, members of NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys, and partners in Harben, Hartley & Hawkins, LLP, are representing the Murray County school district. Hartley also serves as General Counsel for the Georgia School Boards Association.

Joetta Sack-Min|November 30th, 2012|Categories: Bullying, Council of School Attorneys, Crisis Management, Discipline, Policy Formation, School Law, School Security|Tags: , , |

NSBA President: Fiscal cliff would have a major impact on public education

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) President C. Ed Massey, a member of Kentucky’s Boone County Schools Board of Education, wrote a Nov. 28 article for Politico urging members of Congress to avoid the devastating impacts the scheduled federal budget cuts will have on public schools in his district and across the country. Politico is a leading Capitol Hill newspaper.

“As a local school board member, I see firsthand the impact of the planned reductions in federal funding for education,” Massey wrote. “The end result for many of our nation’s public schools would be larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, four-day school weeks, fewer extracurricular activities, less access to intervention programs and teacher/staff layoffs.”

The impact of sequestration, which is the automatic budget cuts scheduled to occur in all federal programs at the beginning of January under the deficit reduction act, would hit public education particularly hard given that schools already have seen years of reductions. NSBA’s “Stop Sequestration” website has numerous actions for local school board members to contact their members of Congress.

Massey cited several examples of districts that were planning to cut teacher jobs, reading and support programs for struggling students, and other programs critical for students’ academic success.

“Closing the doors of opportunity for our students is not an option for economic recovery and deficit reduction,” Massey continued. “I urge members of Congress to continue bipartisan negotiations that will produce a plan that respects the value of education, and I encourage them to protect the investments in the future of our county — our students and schools.

Share your thoughts through comments on Politico about how these federal cuts to education would affect your community.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|November 28th, 2012|Categories: Board governance, Budgeting, Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Legislative advocacy, Teachers|Tags: , , , |

NSBA supports Louisiana school boards in voucher case

A lawsuit filed by school boards will determine the fate of Louisiana’s school voucher plan, which may already be jeopardized after a federal court ruling this week.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is supporting a lawsuit filed in state court by the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA), the state’s main teachers’ organizations, and 43 school districts that challenges the constitutionality of a plan to provide vouchers to Louisiana students in low-performing schools. The first hearing on this lawsuit is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, Nov. 28, in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, La. LSBA’s Legal Counsel Robert Hammonds will be arguing the case on behalf of LSBA’s members.

The law allows students to attend any private or parochial school that is approved by the Louisiana Department of Education, and many of these teach specific and in some cases extremist religious philosophies. Further, the program does little to hold these schools accountable for student learning or financial management of taxpayer funds—for instance, schools that accept less than 40 students with vouchers are not subject to rigorous accountability requirements for student achievement. State legislators and educators have questioned the state’s process to choose the private and parochial schools that are eligible for public funds, while state officials have launched an advertising campaign to promote the plan, which was pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

In a separate but related court ruling on Monday, a federal judge halted the voucher program in Tangipahoa Parish schools, saying that portions of Jindal’s education plan conflicts with a desegregation agreement because the school choice provisions would lead to more segregation in schools. That ruling in New Orleans-based U.S. District court could affect other school districts that are under desegregation orders. State superintendent John White has said the administration will appeal that ruling. It was unclear what the ruling would mean for the students who are already attending schools with vouchers this year.

In a letter to the editor of the The Advocate in Baton Rouge, LSBA Executive Director Scott Richard notes that the voucher program will siphon resources away from public schools with little or no accountability to local school district governance.

The program “is diminishing public school systems’ ability to provide necessary services for all students by diverting public funds to private and parochial entities under the guise of ‘choice,’” he wrote. “What’s wrong with giving parents a choice of where their children go to school under the current voucher program? The private or parochial schools that accept vouchers will not be held to high standards for students’ learning nor the taxpayer dollars they spend — if at all.”

Public schools—governed by local school boards—are best equipped to meet the needs of all students, Richard continued. But those schools need a resources to implement programs that will improve student achievement, including early education, strong interventions for students who are falling behind, and highly qualified teachers and staff.

“LSBA is not defending the status quo in our public schools,” Richard wrote. “We need our elected officials to commit to ensuring that Louisiana has the best public school system available to all of its families and the infrastructure to support it — for the sake of our children and our state.”

NSBA President C. Ed Massey will attend the state trial and bring a letter of support from NSBA to Baton Rouge at the start of the trial on Wednesday.

“It is clear this law was not created with the best interest of all children in mind; instead it promotes a narrow political agenda and will harm community public schools that serve the best interest of all children,” Massey said. “It also deprives the public schools of valuable resources that are necessary to carry out the mandate to provide a free and appropriate public education.”

 

 

Joetta Sack-Min|November 27th, 2012|Categories: Board governance, Budgeting, Diversity, Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Federal Advocacy, Legislative advocacy, Policy Formation, Privatization, Public Advocacy, Religion, School Board News, School Boards, School Vouchers|Tags: , , , |

School boards warn of effects of “fiscal cliff”

If the so-called fiscal cliff occurs, school districts across the country will see larger classes, fewer teachers and program specialists, a decline in professional development, and potentially devastating cuts to programs that help disadvantaged students.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) hosted a media conference call to discuss the looming “fiscal cliff” and the impact it could have on federal K-12 programs. More than 200 school districts have passed resolutions urging Congress to spare education programs, which collectively make up less than 1 percent of the total federal budget.

Federal education programs face an estimated cut of 8.2 percent or more on Jan. 2, 2013, according to estimates by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, unless Congress takes action to cancel those cuts. These cuts are scheduled to occur through a process called sequestration, defined as the automatic, across-the-board cancellation of budgetary resources, which was put into place last year through a deal to avoid lifting the debt ceiling. Aside from Impact Aid, school districts would not see any impact until the 2013-14 school year because federal education programs are funded in advance.

But already, school board members say they are beginning their budget processes and cannot accurately plan until the issue is resolved. Currently, for every $1 million in federal aid a school district receives, NSBA estimates that $82,000 would be cut–more than the cost of one experienced teacher.

The cuts would not end in 2013, either, NSBA’s Director of Federal Legislation Deborah Rigsby said. Sequestration is slated to take place over the next 10 budget cycles with varying percentages of cuts, totaling $1.2 to $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Further, school districts would likely see state and local revenues decline because those governments would receive less money for programs outside of education.

“These cuts to our schools would be devastating and would hurt student achievement,” Rigsby said.

Jill Wynns, a school board member in the San Francisco Unified School District, said that districts across her state had seen decreases of 20 to 24 percent since 2008, and sequestration would impose another $387 million cut. Districts have been allowed to use state funds designated for disadvantaged students and specialized programs such as career and technical education to cover basic operating costs.

“Federal cuts would devastate these programs,” Wynns said. “We’re talking about actual programs for real students, teachers’ jobs—investments for our future.”

Dozens of school districts are bordering on insolvency, she added.

In Ft. Cobb, Okla., many students and adults rely on technical schools to learn new skills and improve their employment prospects, said Dustin Tackett, president of the Caddo Kiowa Technology Center Board of Education.

And in Charlottesville, Va., a district that would see immediate effects because it receives federal Impact Aid funds, sequestration cuts would likely eliminate teacher jobs, said school board member Juandiego Wade.

“All we’ve known the last four to five years are cuts, and we’ve already cut to the bone,” he said. “We feel like we’re under attack.”

NSBA is asking school districts across the country to pass resolutions as soon as possible to send the message to Congress that sequestration would significantly harm their schools. Members of Congress are meeting this week and may take action on a compromise plan in coming days, said Michael A. Resnick, NSBA’s director of federal advocacy and public policy.

To learn more about NSBA’s efforts to prevent sequestration, and actions that local school board members can take at the grassroots level, go to www.nsba.org/stopsequestration.

Joetta Sack-Min|November 15th, 2012|Categories: 2012 Presidential race, Board governance, Budgeting, Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Student Achievement|Tags: , , , , |

Technology survey seeks information from school boards

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) and the Center for Digital Education are launching the nation’s eighth annual Digital School Districts Survey, which shows exemplary ways that school boards and districts use technology to govern, improve district operations, and communicate with students, parents, and the community.

All school boards are invited to participate, and top-ranked school districts will receive awards and will be featured on the Center’s website and in newsletters. Responses will be used for reports, research, trends and analysis. Districts also will be recognized during the NSBA Annual Conference in San Diego, April 13-15, 2013.

The Center is a national research and advisory institute specializing in K-12 and higher education technology trends, policy and funding.

The deadline to submit survey responses online is December 13. For more details about the survey and criteria for its awards, please visit the Center for Digital Education website.

 

 

Joetta Sack-Min|November 15th, 2012|Categories: Announcements, Board governance, School Boards, Technology Leadership Network|Tags: , |

School boards can help NSBA lobby to avoid fiscal cliff

Political pundits are already warning President Barack Obama and members of Congress not to spend too much time basking in their Nov. 6 victories. Beginning next week, Congress and the White House will start the tough negotiations to deal with the process of sequestration, which is the cancellation of budgetary resources.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 will impose across-the-board cuts of approximately 8.2 percent to education and other domestic programs in FY2013 unless Congress intervenes by Jan. 2, 2013. Most school districts would not see any impact until the 2013-14 school year, but those consequences will be severe. Districts that receive Impact Aid funds would see immediate cuts.

More than 100 school boards already have passed resolutions urging members of Congress to stop sequestration, which is also being called the fiscal cliff. The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is asking school boards to pass a resolution, write letters to local newspapers and take actions to publicize schools’ plights. NSBA also wants your stories about how these cuts could impact your students and schools. Learn more on the NSBA’s “Stop Sequestration” webpage for  a list of actions for local school board members and more information about the threats.

NSBA’s Advocacy department also has compiled these facts about sequestration:

  • For every $1 million of federal aid districts receive, they would lose $82,000; and, while districts can vary widely, on average, for every 5,000 students enrolled, districts would lose about $300,000.
  • The impact of an 8.2 percent cut to programs such as Title I grants for disadvantaged students would mean a cut of more than $1 billion, affecting nearly two million students.
  • Special education grants would be reduced by more than $900 million, impacting nearly 500,000 children with disabilities.
  • English Language Acquisition grants would be cut by approximately $60 million, affecting an estimated 377,000 students.
  • These budget cuts to education programs would take place during 2013-14 school year, with the exception of Impact Aid, with which cuts would become effective during this school year.
  • Sequestration’s budget cuts to these and other education programs would mean increased class sizes and less access to programs for children with special needs, as well as summer school, college counselors, early childhood education and after-school programming.
  • Certain school bond programs would also be affected by a 7.6 percent reduction in federal subsidy payments.
  • In addition to school systems losing federal education funds, there are two indirect impacts. First, federal cuts for programs to state and local governments in other areas may result in those units cutting their aid to schools as they scramble to make up the difference. Second, in communities with a large federal presence, such as military bases or government contracts, the across-the-board budget cuts could be devastating to their economies in terms of lost sales and property tax revenues that are often used, in part, to finance education.

If you have any questions or if you would like to send in a resolution, please contact Kathleen Branch, NSBA’s Director of National Advocacy Services at kbranch@nsba.org or (703)838-6735.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|November 7th, 2012|Categories: 2012 Presidential race, Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Legislative advocacy, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Policy Formation, Public Advocacy|Tags: , |

NSBA urges Arizona court to scrap “empowerment scholarships”

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is encouraging the Arizona Court of Appeals to overturn an Arizona law that allows parents of students with disabilities to use taxpayer funds to pay for private schooling if they sign away their constitutional rights to a public education.

NSBA has filed an amicus brief in Niehaus v. Huppenthal, in which the Arizona School Boards Association and several other education organizations filed suit against the state’s “empowerment scholarship” as violating Arizona’s constitution.

The Arizona scheme allows parents of special education students to withdraw their students from public schools and receive up to 90 percent of the public funds to spend on private schooling. The law also includes students in public schools with a letter grade of D or F, children of active military members, wards of the juvenile court, and all previous scholarship recipients in the 2013-14 school year.

“This law requires parents to give up their constitutional rights to re-enroll their children in an Arizona public school for an entire school year, which violates a student’s fundamental right to an education under Arizona’s  constitution,” said NSBA’s General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr.  “Unwitting parents hoping for the best education for their children may be lured into making a false choice that they cannot escape without incurring severe economic loss, because the law compels them to sign away their rights to a public education in exchange for the voucher money.”

Families would also lose the protections granted by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which guarantees  all students with disabilities an individualized education program (IEP),  and a free, appropriate public education (FAPE), and the due process rights to ensure them in public schools. These guarantees would not be available to students opting for the “empowerment scholarships.”

“Arizona’s latest voucher scheme is bad public policy, and  is part of a nationwide effort by special interest groups to undermine public education by diverting scarce tax dollars to private hands, with little, if any, accountability,” Negrón said.

Joetta Sack-Min|November 6th, 2012|Categories: School Law, School Vouchers, Uncategorized|

Nov. ASBJ explores the role of civics education, social media in creating engaged electorate

The presidential election has dominated the campaign season, but local leaders know it’s not the only thing of importance on the ballot. Along with bond referendums to fund capital projects, school board candidates will be vying for open seats— and many will be employing social media to help them do it, as you’ll learn in November’s issue of the American School Board Journal.  

In “Campaigning with Social Media,” Senior Editor Naomi Dillon explores the role Web 2.0 tools like Twitter and Facebook have increasingly played in school board elections. 

It’s a companion piece to Senior Editor Lawrence Hardy’s article on civics education, which many say is essential to getting the next generation to understand the importance of engaging in civic life in the first place.

And on that note, don’t forget to exercise your right and vote on Election Day.

Naomi Dillon|November 2nd, 2012|Categories: American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , , |

What would you do if parents wanted creationism taught in science class?

In the November edition of the American School Board Journal, the Adviser Poll poses this scenario to our readers:

A group of parents and others who attend a large church in the school district began regularly attending board meetings to lobby for the teaching of creationism in the science curriculum. Administrators strongly objected.

The board wanted to be respectful of cultural and religious beliefs in the community, but also felt it was their responsibility to provide a strong foundation in science to the students. What should they do?

Vote and tell us what you think on ASBJ‘s Facebook page.

Naomi Dillon|November 2nd, 2012|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Religion|Tags: , |
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