Articles in the Educational Legislation category

State associations support governors’ moves to curb tenure, union influence

(updated to include letter from Wisconsin Association of School Boards, Ohio governor’s plans to scale back proposal).

As school board members, administrators, and teacher representatives met in Denver on Feb. 15 and 16 for the  first-ever conference on labor-management issues, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, lawmakers in several states were proposing plans to end or rework teacher tenure, collective bargaining, and other measure designed to curb the power of the unions. CNN reports that “States, GOP go after teachers unions in budget crisis.

Some of the most notable actions include:

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie’s education commissioner announced a plan that would grant tenure only after a teacher had been judged effective for three years in a row, and revoke tenure after two consecutive years of poor ratings, The Record reports. The plan would also base a portion of teachers’ evaluations on student performance.

The New Jersey School Boards Association supports the plan. “Tenure now serves as nothing more than a lifetime system of job protection that makes removal of an underperforming teacher difficult, time-consuming and expensive,” said NJSBA Executive Director Marie S. Bilik in a press release.

The Tennessee School Boards Association is supporting a move by the state legislature to repeal the state’s collective bargaining law for educator unions. The bill is expected to clear both chambers of the GOP-led legislature and has the support of new Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, The Commercial Appeal reports.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has proposed a “budget repair bill” that would remove most of the collective bargaining rights of public employees, including teachers. The measure would remove the ability of unions to bargain over pensions, health insurance and working conditions. Employees would be required to contribute significantly to pension funds and school districts would have more control over health insurance and Increases in wages would be limited to increases in the Consumer Price Index, according to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

“Gov. Walker’s proposal will provide school boards with flexibility in containing benefit and wage costs. Together, these measures will assist school boards to ensure limited resources are going to the classroom to provide the best classroom experience for our state’s students,” WASB Executive Director John Ashley wrote in this statement. However, in a Feb. 15 letter to leaders of the state legislature, Ashley indicated that the state’s school board members were “deeply divided” on the issue of curtailing collective bargaining, as many were concerned that it could erode local control and established relationships between board and union leaders. While many WASB members appreciate the flexibility the measure could give them in crafting budgets, it “goes well beyond anything the
WASB’s members have requested in terms of altering the employer-employee relationship,” Ashley wrote.

In what could best be described as a volatile and political landscape, Gov. Walker threatened to lay off more than 12,000 state employees on Feb. 25, while union supporters in New Jersey and Indiana rallied to support the Wisconsin workers and stave off similar efforts in their states, the Washington Post reported.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, has also laid plans to dismantle most of the state’s collective bargaining laws for all public employees as part of his budget plan.  Republicans say the plan is needed to prevent the state from going bankrupt, but the state legislature made some modifications to allow negotiations over wages, the Associated Press reported.

And Florida Gov. Rick Scott wants to restructure the state’s pension system and require teachers and other public employees to make contributions. FSBA Executive Director Wayne Blanton explains the proposals and potential impact for school boards in this video: http://www.associationstudios.com/Publisher_Main.aspx?PublisherId=1169

Joetta Sack-Min|February 18th, 2011|Categories: Announcements, Educational Legislation, School Board News, Teachers|

Obama budget plan focuses on education, competitive grants

President Obama proposed a modest boost for most education programs in his fiscal 2012 budget proposal, a plan that overall includes sizable cuts to many other domestic programs. However, NSBA is particularly concerned about minimal increases to formula grant programs, including Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The $3.7 trillion budget plan, released on Feb. 14, requests $77.4 billion for programs under the U.S. Department of Education, up from $64.1 billion for fiscal 2010, although most of the new funding will go to higher education grants. Education programs have been operating on a continuing resolution for fiscal 2011, funded at the fiscal 2010 levels, as Congress failed to pass a comprehensive budget plan last year. The current continuing resolution expires March 4.

“President Obama clearly sees that investing in education is vital, not just for future generations of our children but to propel our economy and increase our global competiveness,” said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant. “In these extremely challenging economic times, we can’t lose sight of the federal government’s responsibility to support and fund the efforts of local school districts to achieve the necessary reforms and innovations to advance public education.”

NSBA has had longstanding concerns that some of the Obama administration’s signature programs, including the Race to the Top grants and School Improvement Grants (SIG), are based on competitive awards. Many small and rural school districts would be at a disadvantage against school districts that have full-time grantwriters and more capacity to apply for grants.

About 84 percent of the funding under the Obama plan would be given out through formula grants, a slight increase from fiscal 2010, and the proposal would add a new, unspecified amount to the Race to the Top program specifically for rural schools.

The plan would also give a $300 million boost to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and a $200 million boost to Title I grants, slight increases from the fiscal 2010 levels. Both of those programs are funding priorities for NSBA.

“Local school districts would be better served by a stronger emphasis on formula grant programs,” Bryant added. “As school districts are struggling to maintain key programs, Title I and [IDEA] in particular, larger funding increases are necessary to prevent school districts from cutting other important programs to meet these federal mandates.”

President Obama released the plan at a middle school in Maryland, calling it a way “to win the future” for the next generation.

“I’m convinced that if we out-build and out-innovate and out-educate, as well as out-hustle the rest of the world, the jobs and industries of our time will take root here in the United States” Obama said. “Our people will prosper and our country will succeed.”

The proposal, however, will have to pass a more skeptical Congress, including the Republican-led House of Representatives, where many Republican members have called for much deeper cuts.

Details of the Obama administration’s plan include:

  • Race to the Top would be continued at $900 million with a dedicated funding stream for rural schools. The request would also include a $54 million increase for School Improvement Grants (currently funded at $545 million). The i3 (Investing in Innovation) grants would continue at $300 million.
  • A new Early Learning Challenge Fund would receive $350 million.
  • Promise Neighborhoods programs would be funded at $150 million, a $140 million increase, with a specific emphasis on early education.

The plan would reduce funding for Perkins Career and Technical Education grants by $264 million to $1 billion.

Joetta Sack-Min|February 15th, 2011|Categories: Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Federal Programs, School Board News|

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|
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