Articles in the Educational Legislation category

States are depleting their education stimulus funds

Today, the National Journal reviews “What’s Left of the Education Stimulus” for our states.

National Journal reporter Julia Edwards notes that, “many of the states with the toughest budgets to balance this fiscal year have already depleted most of that federal lifeline, making cutbacks in education spending all the more painful. The Education Department recapped the state of the stimulus money periodically until September 30, 2010, but it has since stopped updating its tables and has no plans to add to the draining sums.”

Check out the National Journal chart looking at the what states have depleted the most of their education stimulus funds.

Alexis Rice|February 8th, 2011|Categories: Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Federal Programs, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Looking for the budget silver lining

Deborah Rigsby, NSBA’s director of federal legislation, could not sugarcoat the state and federal budget situations if she tried.

“This is the most difficult budget year in terms of budget gaps,” Rigsby told a Monday FRN seminar. “And looking for a silver lining is almost remote.”

But there’s one faint beacon of potential bipartisan agreement, and that’s a belief that it’s time for the federal government to fully fund Title I and IDEA – or at least move in that direction.

Although Congress has authorized the federal government to pay 40 percent of IDEA, it has never lived up to that expectation. The highest level was 18.5 percent in fiscal year 2005, and current funding is at 17 percent, or $11.5 billion. Rigsby said an initial goal of restoring funding to the 2005 level would take an additional $1.9 billion.

The number of children served by IDEA decreased by nearly 100,000 students from the fall of 2007 to the fall of 2009. However, per pupil expenses rose by about $150 in recent years.

Some Congressional budget hawks are talking about draconian cuts, reducing federal expenditures to 2008 levels. On Jan. 25 the House Republican majority voted to do just that. Such a cut, if it came to pass, would reduce Title I and IDEA by $600 million each, Rigsby said.

“So if you go back to 2008 levels,” Rigsby said, “that’s $1.2 billion cut from these programs alone.”

Meanwhile, total state government revenue fell by $500 billion between 2008 and 2009, a drop of more than 30 percent, Rigsby said. Now state governments face a funding “cliff” as federal stimulus funds run out, leaving a collective $38 billion shortfall.

Lawrence Hardy|February 7th, 2011|Categories: Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, FRN Conference 2011, School Board News, School Boards|

Murray receives NSBA’s special recognition award

Years ago, long before she became a U.S. senator, Patty Murray wasn’t thinking about national education policy or the need to create world-class schools. The Washington state parent just wanted to get funding restored for her children’s state preschool program. So she loaded her two children, then ages one and three, into the family car and drove 100 miles to Olympia, the state capital, a place she’d never seen.

Murray, who received NSBA’s Congressional Special Recognition Award Monday at FRN’s Final General Session, thought the state legislators would readily restore the funding once they saw what a valuable and cost-effective program it was.

Well, not exactly. But what Murray did next has a lot to do with what hundreds of board members are doing on Tuesday as they meet with members of Congress and their staffs. She was a citizen on a mission just like FRN members will be as they make the case for America’s public schools.

One state legislator looked at her informal dress (remember? Two children, ages 1 and 3, along for the ride?) and said this now memorable line: “You know, you can’t make a difference. You’re just a mom in tennis shoes.”
That struck a nerve. So the “mom in tennis shoes” found other moms in tennis shoes – lots of them. And before long she had a movement of some 13,000 parents. And yes, preschool funding was restored.

It’s the same tenacity that led Murray – now advocating for children on a much bigger stage – to offer an amendment to the federal stimulus bill that provided $10 billion to schools across the country that were facing deep staffing cuts.

“I learned that if you want to make change you have to personally get involved,” Murray said, “and you stay with it until it gets done.”

The audience also heard from two other champions of public education, Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Sen. Kay Hagen, D-N.C.

Thompson, a strong advocate for rural schools, said Title I funding is too skewed in favor of large suburban districts — and some, but not all, urban ones — at the expense of rural school systems. He said it is not right that Philadelphia, Pa., receives 45 percent more per child in Title I funding than Philadelphia, Miss.

Thompson also said he wants more authority to shift back to local school boards, and he expressed skepticism about core standards being developed by consortiums of states with little input from local school boards.

“Education, in my view, is a state responsibility that is delegated to the local level,” Thompson said.

Hagen said there needs to be “a national sense of urgency” to educate all students to higher levels. And, like Thompson, she said there needs to be more autonomy at the local level.

“Schools in Alabama have very different needs than schools in downtown Boston,” Hagen said. And the people who best know how to serve their needs are in their localities, not Washington, D.C.”

The session concluded with NSBA’s head of advocacy, Associate Executive Director Michael Resnick, asking the audience: “Are you ready to go to Capital Hill tomorrow on behalf of the nation’s schoolchildren?”

“Yes!” was their resounding reply.

Lawrence Hardy|February 7th, 2011|Categories: Educational Legislation, FRN Conference 2011, Governance, School Board News, School Boards|

Vouchers make a comeback in states, Capitol Hill

Proposals to create private school vouchers are back in state legislatures as well as the federal landscape, with new Republican House members and Speaker of the House John Boehner already pushing school choice bills, according to NSBA’s advocacy team.

A voucher initiative could also appear in legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA legislative analyst Katherine Shek told participants of a Monday session at the Federal Relations Network Conference.

Rep. Boehner already has introduced a bill to reinstate a program for students in Washington, D.C., offering vouchers of up to $7,500 to private or religious schools. The program, funded at $13.2 million for the last fiscal year, expired in 2009 and was not renewed, but currently enrolled students were allowed to continue at their schools.

There’s even more action in the states, with 18 voucher proposals in 12 states and Washington, Shek said.

“We’re going to have a serious challenge on vouchers and tuition tax credits,” Shek said. Some of the proposals are referred to as “scholarships,” and new legislators may not understand the full impact of the proposals, she added.

Also this year, the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of Arizona’s tuition tax credits, which give donors state income tax breaks for providing tuition for children to attend private, predominantly religious schools. NSBA has filed an amicus brief on behalf plaintiffs challenging the program, which funnels millions of dollars to private schools without public accountability. (Read more on Winn v. Christian School Tuition Organization here.)

Joetta Sack-Min|February 7th, 2011|Categories: Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, FRN Conference 2011, Governance, School Board News, School Boards, School Reform, School Vouchers, Urban Schools|

Child nutrition remains a hot legislative topic

The Child Nutrition Act reauthorization passed in December. So why was it a hot topic at a session on legislative priorities at the Federal Relations Network conference?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing regulations that could dramatically impact the implementation of the new law, and school leaders need to let their Congressional representatives know the issues they will be facing if some of the regulations do not blunt the impact of the law.

NSBA and several other groups opposed the passage of the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” because it created many vague mandates with minimal or no funding increases. However, the bill was pushed by First Lady Michelle Obama and others who want to help children living in poverty have access to healthier foods.

“Sometimes what looks good on paper doesn’t work on the ground,” noted NSBA legislative analyst Katherine Shek.

Some of the more problematic provisions include new “voluntary” meal standards that will set new nutritional standards for all school meals, including foods sold in vending machines and during fundraisers; plus more reporting, training, and certification requirements.

NSBA is also concerned about the indirect costs for program operations, maintaining buildings and equipment, and the possibility of increased administrative salaries due to the new requirements.

One school board member said her small, rural district only paid its food service director $11 an hour — not enough to attract someone who has a college education or higher career prospects.

The new law also will regulate the amount charged for unsubsidized cafeteria meals. The federal government will require school districts to raise any “artificially low” prices or cover the difference with non-federal funds.

“Sometimes you might want to make [school lunches] affordable for other kids who might be low income but not qualify for free and reduced-price lunches,” said Shek.

Overall, NSBA wants school boards to share their stories of successful programs with Congress. “Improving health and wellness of kids really is a local effort.”

The deadline to comment on the proposed regulations is April 13. For more information, go to www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-01-13/pdf/2011-485.pdf.

Joetta Sack-Min|February 7th, 2011|Categories: Educational Legislation, Food Service, FRN Conference 2011, Governance, Nutrition, Obesity, School Board News, School Boards, Student Achievement, Wellness|

Sec. Duncan’s priority: Reauthorize ESEA

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan promised school board members that he will do everything in his power to ensure that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is reauthorized by the next school year, and the law’s escalating and unfair sanctions will be replaced with supports and rewards for excellent schools.

But to the frustration of several school board members, he refused to address the “what if” question: What actions would he take to remove sanctions if Congress does not get a new law passed in time for the new school year?

Duncan, the keynote luncheon speaker at NSBA’s Federal Relations Conference on Monday, said his priorities are reauthorizing ESEA, creating better labor-management relations, raising academic standards, and giving every child a well-rounded education. He also vowed to support reform at the local level.

“There’s a huge appetite, led by some of you, for change, and for reform,” Duncan told the audience of more than 800 school board members and state association leaders.

Conversations with school board members and administrators have convinced him that ESEA must be reauthorized this year. Too many schools are being labeled as failing, he said, which undermines the work and morale of students, teachers, and administrators as well as the public’s confidence in schools. And the No Child Left Behind Act, the 2002 reauthorization of ESEA, also inadvertently has led to “dumbing down” of state standards and narrowing of the curriculum, Duncan said.

“We have to fix all of these things,” he said.

But Duncan deflected a question from NSBA President Earl C. Rickman III, who was cheered on by the audience when asked where he would support the deferral of the most costly sanctions if the reauthorization was not completed this year. NSBA’s advocacy department is pushing members of Congress to pass a comprehensive bill, or at least legislation to remove some of the sanctions, by June 30.

“My mentality is to get this thing passed,” Duncan said. “If not, we will cross that bridge at the end of the day. It must be fixed for the entire country. I would love to have a law passed and on the president’s desk by the start of the school year.”

Further prodding during the question-and-answer session did not bring any more details.

Duncan said a recent trip to Georgia showed him the “extraordinary power school board members have to drive change.”

The secretary visited the suburban Gwinnett County school district, which won the 2010 Broad Prize for Urban Education, for its ability to advance student learning, which has seen dramatic changes in the racial and economic diversity in its population.

He then pointed to the Atlanta school district, which is in danger of losing its accreditation in part because of infighting among its school board members.

During the rigorous question-and-answer session, school board members forced Duncan to defend the Obama administration’s plans to force states to take drastic actions on the lowest performing 5 percent of schools. Some also pushed him to explain the administration’s actions to create new competitive grants, which many smaller school districts might not have the capacity to write grants to compete, while proposing only small increases or level-funding of formula grant programs, including Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

“Do you really believe our children should compete for their education?” asked one member from Washington state.

“We will never walk away from our commitments,” said Duncan. He said at least 84 percent of federal K-12 funds will always be formula based, but he insisted that there should be a pot of money set aside to reward states and districts that take the initiative to create excellent programs and higher standards.

Duncan also promised that President Obama will make ESEA and improving K-12 education a top priority, and that his recent State of the Union speech was only the beginning of a long-term commitment.

Rickman, meanwhile, told audience members that whether or not they agreed with the secretary, “He is our best hope for getting any kind of changes and reform.”

Joetta Sack-Min|February 7th, 2011|Categories: Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, FRN Conference 2011, Religion, School Board News, School Boards|

Common Core Standards bring challenges

Though the development of Common Core State Standards has been a state-led, voluntary initiative, school boards need to keep a close eye on their development to ensure it doesn’t become another unfunded mandate that hurts rather than helps raise student achievement.

“While this is still in its infancy, it is moving at a really fast track,” said Patte Barth, director of NSBA’s Center for Public Education, who led Monday’s FRN Conference session on the Common Core State Standards [CCSS] and what they mean for school districts.

A joint effort of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governor’s Association, the project launched in early 2009 and relied on an advisory group of state boards, national testing, and higher education representatives, who developed common standards for English language arts and mathematics. A draft version was released in September 2009, generating more than 10,000 comments. A finalized version was released in June 2010.

To date, 40 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards, Barth said, though that number has fluctuated and will continue to do so. November’s general election placed new governors at the helm of 29 states, and a similar upheaval occurred in the House of Representatives.

What’s more, 40 states are experiencing severe economic problems requiring significant cuts in per-pupil spending, making the implementation of new standards, at this time, impractical.

“Most states will say it will take longer than 2013 and beyond,” said Roberta E. Stanley, NSBA’s director of federal affairs. “And when I say beyond, I mean, beyond, beyond. It’s far more complicated than they thought.”

For starters, common assessments — which two state consortiums are currently developing thanks to more than $300 million in federal grants — must be decided. Then, curriculum and textbooks must be aligned and professional development must be provided.

“And since Texas, as we know, drives the textbook industry and they haven’t signed on to this yet … that’s a little bit of a problem,” Stanley said.

Though Congress hasn’t been directly involved in the CCSS initiative, Stanley said, it will be interesting to see how that evolves, particularly against the backdrop of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

“I can’t help but think when the reauthorization kicks in, this will be brought up,” Stanley said.

Before and in anticipation of that, school boards must pester states about being part of the process.

“Don’t wait for the states to proclaim from up high,” Stanley said. “Ask them to invite you to meetings and be part of the plan for implementation, so that you have a full knowledge and understanding of it. You don’t need to have this kind of thing sprung on you.”

Naomi Dillon|February 7th, 2011|Categories: Educational Legislation, FRN Conference 2011, Governance, School Board News, School Boards|

ESEA, federal role top federal agenda

It was just after 8 a.m. Monday, but the day’s first General Session of NSBA’s Federal Relations Network Conference was jam-packed and buzzing with energy.

“I think it’s a tremendous sign of your commitment that after the Super Bowl you’re all ready to go, bright and early,” said NSBA Associate Executive Director Michael A. Resnick, in kicking off a busy day of informative breakout sessions designed to get school board members up to speed on the most pressing federal and legislative issues, and prepared for meetings with their elected members of Congress on Tuesday — a key feature of the FRN conference.

Under the Obama administration, the federal role in education has expanded greatly. But while the executive branch has been aggressive in its efforts to reform public schools, Congress has taken a more passive stance, Resnick said.

“To the extent Congress is left out of the equation, school districts lose that legislative impact,” he said. “Part of our message is to push Congress to regain that influence.”

And the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is arguably the most important federal legislation school board members should push to have more of a say in through their elected representatives, said Reginald M. Felton, director of NSBA’s federal relations.

“What’s been our position regarding this bill? We’ve said this is a good thing in terms of the goals because we want our students to succeed and do well,” Felton said. “There’s not a school board that sits around and says, ‘How can we cheat students out of an education?’”

Rather, the problem school boards have with NCLB is an overemphasis on high-stakes testing, the use of invalid assessments, and mandated sanctions that aren’t based on research and accurate data.

Though NCLB officially expired in the 2007-2008 school year, it has remained in effect because of Congress inertia on the issue.

“[Congress] actually did begin drafting legislation to reauthorize ESEA, and in many cases they were successful, but they did not get to the end … and ultimately we ran out of time.”

Moving forward, school board members must engage their Congress members, particularly newly elected ones, and express their concerns and worries over the executive branch’s overreaching authority in education.

“Let your members of Congress know you’ve elected them to represent you and establish policy, it’s not the other way around where the executive branch is determining the framework,” Felton said. “Educating our children should remain a principal function of state and local communities.”

This is not necessarily about going back to the good old days, he said but removing any barriers the federal government puts in front of local communities in reaching those goals. Schools shouldn’t be penalized for employing innovative programs that address high school drop- out rates, but might keep students in school longer.

Most importantly, school leaders need to let Congress know they need to move on reauthorizing ESEA.

“We are sick and tired of not addressing this bill,” Felton said. “Make sure they feel our pain.”

Naomi Dillon|February 7th, 2011|Categories: Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, FRN Conference 2011, Governance, School Board News|

Political reality show ahead, says Ornstein

Feeling all warm and fuzzy over the way Democrats and Republicans tossed partisanship aside and actually sat next to one another during President Obama’s State of the Union address? Political analyst Norman J. Ornstein hates to burst your bubble, but he says the comity won’t last. In fact, with some huge battles brewing in Congress over budgets and the Obama health care bill, the rancor will only get worse.

“The fact is, it’s faux bipartisanship now, and we are now moving back into the abyss,” Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said Sunday at an afternoon session of NSBA’ Federal Relations Network Conference.

Ground-breaking elections are rare in American politics, and yet we’ve had three “wave elections” in a row, which upset the balance of Congressional power in 2006, 2008, and 2010, he said.

“What these three waves tell us is that Americans are angry, upset, and unhappy with the people in charge,” Ornstein said. “And they have a very short leash.”

The beneficiary of the latest outburst, what Ornstein called “a growing populist anger,” is, of course, the Republican Party, which regained control of the U.S. House of Representatives. But this is no time to envy John Boehner, the newly elected Speaker. Half his delegation is new, and the other half is composed of anti-big-government gadflies who aren’t particularly amenable to following anybody.

Referring to the famously conservative South Carolina Senator, Jim DeMint, Ornstein said: “I call them Junior DeMints. And they don’t trust their leaders more than anyone else.”

Now, Ornstein said, “we’re headed for a series of showdowns that will grow increasingly (divisive) and bitter.”

Tea Party members of Congress want to reduce federal spending to 2008 levels — and do it now. But discretionary spending – that is, things that can be cut — represent only one-eighth of the federal budget. “So you’re left with a few areas that are highly vulnerable, that will have to take large cuts immediately, and those two highly vulnerable areas are education and health.”

Ornstein said he foresees several mini-shutdowns of the government as the budget battles intensify. There could be significant cuts to schools, and health programs such as Medicaid, the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“So we’re going to see an interesting reality show in the next three or four months,” Ornstein said.

Lawrence Hardy|February 6th, 2011|Categories: Educational Legislation, FRN Conference 2011, School Board News|

Ravitch decries reformers seeking to divide

“I’m here because I’m frightened for the future of public education.”

That was the opening salvo by education historian Diane Ravitch, as she offered a spirited condemnation of many of today’s popular school reform ideas at a Sunday afternoon session of NSBA’s Federal Relations Network Conference.

As a matter of history, it’s unclear that public education has ever faced such fierce criticism as it does today, said Ravitch, a nationally recognized education author, former U.S. assistant secretary of education, and research professor at New York University.

Certainly the public schools have come under criticism before, she said. But there was a difference from today.

“Critics of public education wanted to make public education better. They didn’t want to replace it with privatization. They wanted higher standards … more funding and more equitable funding … an end to segregation. They didn’t want to get rid of public education.”

Today, it appears some school reformers are out to demoralize the education community and undermine public confidence in the public schools, she said.

They’re telling people the schools are terrible, Ravitch said. The schools are failing. Educators can’t solve any of their problems. Teachers are responsible for the failure. The schools are filled with bad teachers.

“They want to divide people who support public education,” she continued. “Then, when everybody is divided and demoralized, that’s when they’ll move in and privatize our schools. That’s just a terrible scenario.”

As Ravitch described it, the cacophony against public schools is the work of “politicians, Wall Street hedge fund managers, media tycoons, and the wealthiest in the nation who have their eyes on the ‘education industry,’ as they call it. They see an opportunity for desegregation, to put schools in the hands of entrepreneurs.”

This effort really gained momentum with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, a “toxic brand” as Ravitch described the law. By setting impossibly high standards for 2014, school reformers ensured that more and more schools would be labeled as “failing”—setting the stage for public disillusionment with public education.

“No Child Left Behind is a timetable for the deconstruction of public education in America.”

Today’s reformers no better. Ravitch criticized the Obama administration’s Race to the Top (RTTT) program for its competitive approach to reform. The federal role in education was designed to bring equity to the nation’s schools, she said, not to create a generation of winners and losers for federal funding.

“Federal funding should be available to all children … to all students in need, not those in states that happened to win a competition.”

Another of today’s popular reform ideas — the closing of low-performing schools — also is wrongheaded, she says. That practice has been used in the Chicago schools for years, but research shows that the majority of students at these schools simply end up transferring to other low-performing schools—and, on top of that, they lose any community supports that exited at their old school.

Such efforts are nothing but a case of musical chairs, she said. “No child will be helped by any of these measures. It will be accompanied by turmoil, with new schools opening with the same kids and the same problems unaddressed.”

Finally, such reforms ignore what educators have known for years — that a school’s academic success is highly linked to the number of impoverished children it serves, she said. “You keep having corporate types saying that poverty is just an excuse,” she said. But “we have 100 years of political science that says they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

So when school leaders walk out of the FRN conference later this week to visit with to lawmakers in Congress, she said, the message should be: “Stop closing schools. Closing schools is not a turnaround strategy … Fix the schools. Evaluate their needs and help them. The federal government has dramatically overstepped its bounds … Get the federal government out of the business of punishing schools.”

Del Stover|February 6th, 2011|Categories: Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Federal Programs, FRN Conference 2011, Governance, School Board News, School Boards, School Reform|
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