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Articles in the Federal Advocacy category

School boards urge USDA to provide substantial flexibility in school meals proposal

School lunch

NSBA is encouraging the USDA provide   flexibility on school meals

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) supports the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to delay or waive implementation of some of the more difficult provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. However, NSBA considers USDA’s School Strike Force draft proposal to provide targeted assistance to a limited number of school food authorities insufficient to fully address the difficulties inherent in the implementation of the law.

In a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, NSBA made recommendations to the Strike Force proposal including clarification regarding where in school districts the proposal applies, whether there is a the net gain in resources available, plus the need to defer to local school district governance practices.

NSBA has frequently observed that school meals are provided in the larger context of school district operations that are frequently ignored. In order to restore an accurate perception and understanding of the impact of school meal policy from USDA, the focus on SFAs must be transparent and decisions made in a manner consistent with school district operational procedures already in place.

NSBA has spoken out previously through formal comments; implementation of USDA rules on school meals must acknowledge the cumulative impact of multiple regulatory actions on school districts. Additionally, implementation must reverse policies that redirect state and local funding to the SFA from elsewhere in the district, require school districts to increase prices to students and their families, result in the elimination of staff and services in the SFA or the district as a whole, or regulate school district activity beyond the SFA.

“The law must remain cost neutral to school districts; either by increasing federal funds available to cover increased costs or by regulating in such a way that compliance is possible within current reimbursement rates, including waivers or other temporary measures to allow schools to comply,” said the National School Boards Association’s Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel in the letter.

Alexis Rice|August 5th, 2014|Categories: Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Legislative advocacy, Nutrition, Wellness|Tags: , , |

NSBA calls for caution on data collection of students with disabilities

The U.S. Department of Education should exercise caution in collecting and analyzing data on students with disabilities based on their racial and ethnic backgrounds because of the unique circumstances of each students’ special needs, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) warns in a letter responding to a request for comment.

NSBA urges the Education Department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) to hold off on policies for the data collection until it develops a cost-neutral solution that adequately accounts for differences among states and school districts, rather than a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Further, OSERS risks overstepping its regulatory authority, NSBA cautions.

OSERS is seeking ways to collect extensive data based on race and ethnicity of students with disabilities to address the issue of significant disproportionality. The main federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), requires states to collect and examine data to determine whether there are disproportionate numbers of students, based on race and ethnicity, identified as disabled.

For instance, the law requires states to examine the numbers of students identified with particular impairments; the placement of children in particular educational settings; and the incidence, duration, and type of disciplinary actions, including suspensions and expulsions, to determine if the law is being applied correctly. If significant disproportionality is found, states must take action and direct a portion of federal IDEA funding toward fixing the situation.

But this type of information could be misinterpreted and lead to mislabeling of schools, NSBA says. It also would be costly, and that money might be better spent on educational services for students with disabilities.

OSERS requested comment on how it could build a “standard approach” to ensure states and school districts do not have significant disproportionality, and how to account for the inherent differences between individual states and school districts.
NSBA noted that there are many factors to consider, including:

• The demographics of student populations, including the number of students identified for special
education, change from year to year;
• Staff turnover and a national shortage of K-12 teachers certified in special education, which impacts
the number of personnel available at each school who are trained in the identification and evaluation process; and
• Redistricting and school consolidation directly impact student population data and can appear as disparities.

Most importantly, data should not be read or interpreted in a vacuum, NSBA says. For instance, small school districts or school districts with only small percentages of minority students might have a small number of minority students with disabilities, but proportionately those students can make up a sizable percentage of the special education enrollment and appear to be disproportionate.

Joetta Sack-Min|July 30th, 2014|Categories: Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Policy Formation, Special Education|Tags: , , |

The “unintended consequences” of federal school meal regulations

Check out the National School Boards Association’s Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel’s reflecting on the real impact and the challenges that public schools still face on implementing federal school meal regulations in a commentary published by The Huffington Post:

When did a politically driven view of school nutrition begin to overtake visible realities? Trays of uneaten cafeteria food thrown in the trash. Hungry kids. Struggling school food-service programs. Peel back the good intentions and the celebrity-fueled support of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, and you’ll see the practical realities many school districts and students face. Legislation enacted without a practical understanding of its consequences truly fails America’s public schoolchildren.

That’s why the National School Boards Association (NSBA) is asking Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to address the unintended consequences of the Act.

The real story of school districts trying to put nutrition regulation into practice has been drowned out by the political noise surrounding the issue. Some have suggested that those who want to grant schools much-needed relief have partisan motivations. Others make the specious claim that local school officials do not want to do the work of raising nutrition standards.

It is time to set the record straight: School districts are committed to providing healthy meals to students, and NSBA has actively and long supported the federal school nutrition program.

At the time of the law’s passage in 2010, however, NSBA expressed concerns about the significantly higher costs likely to be associated with the new mandates. The stricter nutritional standards — as well as other new regulations issued by USDA — are cost-prohibitive for many already cash-strapped school districts.

It’s hard to imagine the law’s vocal supporters intended that it would result in student boycotts of school lunches, higher meal prices, food wasted or discarded, and school districts scrambling to identify funds to comply with unfunded regulations. Political outrage does not match up with “on-the-ground” reality: Declining participation in the meal programs means that many students are underserved, while others are simply going hungry.

The realities are clear to ordinary Americans in local communities: Unfunded mandates in the law are placing an untenable burden on America’s public school districts and America’s public schoolchildren. Even food outside the school meal program — including snacks in vending machines or cupcakes sold at school fundraisers — must adhere to costly new nutrition standards.

For many students, school lunch is their only meal of the day. We owe it to children, parents and communities to think through the practical aspects of how laws are implemented. Drawing attention to these issues is not part of a campaign by school districts to avoid complying with the law. Overly rigid and unrealistic federal mandates undermine the ability of school districts to do what the law intends: prepare and serve nutritious food that enables America’s public schoolchildren to grow, learn and thrive.

It is incumbent upon us to apply reason to the debate. This is why NSBA supports temporary waivers and other reasonable measures to restore local flexibility and authority to school districts struggling to comply with the rigid and unrealistic provisions of the law.

NSBA also applauds the USDA’s decisions to delay or waive implementation of some of the law’s more onerous provisions, and the recent effort by Secretary Vilsack to initiate an honest exchange of opinions among various national organizations with an interest in this key policy issue. This issue calls for thoughtful deliberation and compromise, not shrill political rhetoric.

Alexis Rice|July 30th, 2014|Categories: Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Food Service, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Nutrition|Tags: , , , , , |

NSBA: Do not force Washington schools to send school failure letters under NCLB

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is urging the U.S. Department of Education to exempt Washington’s education agency from the 14-day requirement to issue letters informing parents of school choice options for schools deemed “failing” under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Many of Washington’s public schools will be labeled as “failing” this year from what are widely considered unfair and punitive NCLB sanctions this spring. Washington had received a waiver from the most punitive requirements, but the Department of Education revoked that waiver when state lawmakers refused to change the state’s teacher evaluation system earlier this year.

Forcing Washington’s public schools to issue such letters is counterproductive because many schools are making significant progress, and the action would erode residents’ trust in public schools, the letter warns.

“Imposing this requirement on Washington’s schools is a disservice that could hurt the morale of students, erode community confidence, affect support from business partners, impact the ability to attract and retain effective teachers and leaders, and reduce other resources that benefit the students,” NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel wrote.

For instance, the letters would negatively impact voting on bond issues and levies for capital improvement projects to improve school infrastructure and provide 21st century learning environments, and hurt schools’ abilities to sustain and build support from businesses and industry, the letter states.

“Instead of supporting Washington’s schools and students, the Department would be damaging the very progress that Washington’s school boards, administrators, teachers and staff, parents, businesses and communities have achieved for their students,” Gentzel wrote.

Here’s the full letter:

Dear Secretary Duncan:

The National School Boards Association, representing over 90,000 local school board members through our state associations, urges your swift consideration to exempt the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) from the 14-day notice requirement regarding public school choice for the upcoming school year.

The letters that are currently required would convey a great level of ambiguity about the condition of many schools, labeling them as failing. Conversely, several schools have made significant gains in raising student achievement, from graduation rates and reading proficiency to parental involvement. In fact, the Department has acknowledged school districts in Washington for their success in improving educational opportunities and outcomes for their students. Hence, the 14-day letters would be counterproductive to the students, schools, and communities, especially when there are extremely limited school choice options in the state.

Imposing this requirement on Washington’s schools is a disservice that could hurt the morale of students, erode community confidence, affect support from business partners, impact the ability to attract and retain effective teachers and leaders, and reduce other resources that benefit the students. For example, several communities are slated to consider bond issues and levies for capital improvement projects to improve school infrastructure and provide 21st century learning environments. What good would the letters do in supporting these community efforts? They would discourage citizens and community support instead of fostering the very resources the Department encourages within states and communities. Additionally, what purpose would the letters serve in helping Washington’s schools sustain and build support from businesses and industry in securing partnerships for programs such as Career and Technical Education or arts and humanities? Would the letters influence these and other decisions?

Instead of supporting Washington’s schools and students, the Department would be damaging the very progress that Washington’s school boards, administrators, teachers and staff, parents, businesses and communities have achieved for their students.

Therefore, we urge you to exempt Washington’s school districts from this requirement. Please contact Reginald M. Felton, Interim Associate Executive Director, at (703) 838-6782, or, regarding any further information about this request. We appreciate your consideration and look forward to working closely with you throughout this process.



Thomas J. Gentzel
Executive Director, NSBA

Joetta Sack-Min|July 18th, 2014|Categories: Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, No Child Left Behind|Tags: , , , |

NSBA to Congress: Hands off E-rate

NSBA is urging Congress not to jeopardize Internet, broadband, and Wi-Fi access for millions of students or block improvements to E-rate, the federal program that provides connectivity resources for schools and libraries.

Student access to high-speed Internet connections is critical, and 80 percent of schools currently have slow or an inadequate number of Internet connections. An amendment to limit options for schools and libraries under E-rate would halt progress in providing urgently needed access to students and schools. Such an amendment to the appropriations bill also would hamper the FCC’s efforts to modern the 20-year-old program.

NSBA has written a letter to Congress asking for a “No” vote on any amendments to the E-rate program in HR 5016. As a member of Education and Libraries Network Coalitions (EdLiNC), NSBA is adding its voice to the coalition’s letter to Congress urging the same.

Kathleen Vail|July 15th, 2014|Categories: Educational Legislation, Educational Technology, Federal Advocacy, Legislative advocacy|Tags: , , |

NSBA discusses school lunch concerns with USDA

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) was one of 16 organizations that met today with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Under Secretary of Agriculture Kevin Concannon, and “Let’s Move!” Executive Director Sam Kass to discuss problems implementing new regulations for school meals stipulated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFK) and methods for improving child nutrition. Lucy Gettman, NSBA’s Director of Federal Programs, represented NSBA to call for recognition of the impact of the legislation on school district budgets and operations.

Gettman thanked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for “including school district governance in this conversation and for taking a leadership role in convening this group of stakeholders, many of whom have never been convened as a group before. Hopefully, this will be the first of several conversations.”

School boards and administrators have struggled to implement HHFK’s provisions, which require districts to serve school meals meeting strict nutritional and portion guidelines that many children find less filling and less palatable. School districts are reporting more food waste and lower rates of participation in school meal programs, and must cover unfunded cost increases somehow, usually through staff and program reductions.

In addition to school meal requirements, the law also has provisions for competitive foods that went into effect July 1, 2014. Forthcoming requirements include training and education standards for school food service personnel, and expanded requirements for local school wellness policies, further affecting districts’ operations and bottom lines.

Gettman urges policy makers, “Be mindful of the cumulative effect of these requirements across school systems that are also implementing Common Core State Standards, Elementary and Secondary Education Act waivers, trying to administer assessments, trying to get a highly-effective teacher in every classroom, and make sure that ‘the wheels of the bus go ‘round and ‘round.’ We have to work together to make sure that it all fits together and works together, and that the child nutrition reauthorization isn’t having an impact on the rest of the educational system that isn’t supported financially and that doesn’t acknowledge local authority and control.”

Representatives from the following organizations were in attendance:

• Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
• Alliance for a Healthier Generation
• American Academy of Pediatrics
• American Heart Association
• Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
• Center for Science in the Public Interest
• Food Research & Action Center
• Mission: Readiness
• National Education Association
• National Food Service Management Institute
• National Parent Teacher Organization
• National School Boards Association
• Pew Charitable Trusts
• Public Health Institute
• School Nutrition Association
• United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association

Margaret Suslick|July 10th, 2014|Categories: Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Food Service|Tags: , , , , , , , |

NSBA names Michael C. Zola as head of federal advocacy and public policy

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) announced today that veteran education policymaker Michael C. Zola will join the organization as its Associate Executive Director, Federal Advocacy and Public Policy.

Zola will oversee NSBA’s legislative advocacy division, including the National School Boards Action Center, NSBA’s 501(c)(4) organization, and the Center for Public Education, NSBA’s research arm.

“We are very pleased that Michael Zola will lead the National School Boards Association’s federal advocacy initiatives,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, NSBA Executive Director. “Michael’s extensive experience in federal policy and government management will further strengthen NSBA’s relations with Congress and the White House on behalf of state school boards associations and the more than 90,000 school board members across the country.”

Zola comes to NSBA from Capitol Hill, where he was the Deputy Staff Director/Senior Counsel for the Education and the Workforce Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. Zola previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs and has served as Chief Investigative Counsel for the Education and the Workforce Committee. He also has held several positions in the U.S. Government Accountability Office, including: Assistant Director and Certified Fraud Examiner, Senior Attorney, Legislative Advisor, Senior Foreign Affairs Analyst, and Investigator.

“It is such an honor to lead federal advocacy efforts at the National School Boards Association at such a vital time for America’s public schools,” said Zola.

Zola is a graduate of Catholic University’s Columbia School of Law, the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

Joetta Sack-Min|July 10th, 2014|Categories: Announcements, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Leadership, Legislative advocacy, National School Boards Action Center, School Board News, School Boards|Tags: , |

NSBA: E-Rate funding shortage jeopardizes future of program

The federal E-rate program will lose impact and some school districts will be harmed without additional funding, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) has warned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In a July 1 letter to FCC commissioners, NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel warns, “The absence of a meaningful increase in funding – at the heart of NSBA’s recommendations and those of many other organizations – undermines the future of E-rate as a catalyst for progress.  The simultaneous retrenchment of resources from the discount matrix and legacy services exacerbates the dilemma for school districts.  Further, a multi-year commitment to Wi-Fi expansion without a clearly identified funding source in the later years puts the entire E-rate fund at potential risk.  Finally, any departure from need-based dissemination of resources would fundamentally alter the program and potentially harm the very students and schools that need it the most.”

NSBA and other groups have urged the FCC to permanently raise the E-rate’s funding cap and continue the program’s poverty-based funding formula. The FCC is expected to modernize the program sometime this year.

“For nearly 20 years, NSBA has supported the goals of the E-rate program to increase Internet connectivity and provide digital learning opportunities to underserved students, schools and libraries,” the letter states.

Learn more on NSBA’s positions on educational technology and E-rate.

Joetta Sack-Min|July 1st, 2014|Categories: Budgeting, Educational Technology, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, School Buildings|Tags: , |

NSBA discusses board leadership on Education Talk Radio

Anne M. Byrne, President of the National School Boards Association and member of the school board for New York’sBryne-3-13-2014 Nanuet Union Free School District, spoke about her experience as a school leader on Education Talk Radio today. During the interview she also discussed the need for federal legislation to stave off overzealous regulations, the Common Core State Standards, and school nutrition. Listen to the interview with Education Talk Radio host Larry Jacobs.


Joetta Sack-Min|June 25th, 2014|Categories: Assessment, Board governance, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Food Service, Uncategorized|Tags: , |

School boards call for more sensible school nutrition rules

school lunch

NSBA is calling on Congress and USDA to allow schools flexibility to meet new mandates

As school districts are bearing higher costs and more rigid requirements for school meals, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) is calling on Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow schools flexibility to meet new mandates.

New regulations for the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act that take effect July 1, 2014 will further restrict school districts’ abilities to offer a variety of palatable foods for their students. In a press teleconference yesterday, NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel noted that the layers of new federal regulations were hampering the goals of the federal school nutrition programs.

For instance, the 2010 law requires schools to increase and analyze the nutritional content of foods not only sold in school cafeterias but also vending machines and other school venues not a part of the federal school meal programs. The law also requires new training and educational standards for food service workers.

“We now see that new reporting and compliance requirements are unfunded and otherwise problematic,” Gentzel said. “School boards now are asking for relief from some of the most inoperable regulations and unintended consequences.”

“School boards across the country know the importance of a healthy school meal,” said NSBA President Anne M. Byrne. “Our schools see many students who do not get good nutrition at home and do not have a steady and dependable supply of healthy foods.”

Students whose families serve less nutritious, low-quality foods are more likely to be obese, added Byrne, a member of the board of the Nanuet Union Free School District in New York and a retired registered nurse. In Nanuet, elementary school students are wasting a lot of nutritious food, such as whole-grain bread, because they are unfamiliar with it, she said.

Byrne and Katy Smith Campbell, President of the Alabama School Boards Association, noted that the new regulations will ban chocolate milk, even though their schools serve low-fat versions. Both agreed they would rather children drink chocolate milk than go without.

“There are no provisions for extra servings,” said Campbell, a member of the Macon County Board of Education in Tuskegee, Ala. “In many cases that’s not enough, especially for athletes.”

The federal law is similar to state regulations, which Alabama districts found have taken several years for students to get used to eating healthier fare. However, Smith-Campbell noted that the federal regulations are more restrictive.

Rocky Ahner of Lehighton Area School Board in Pennsylvania noted that his district began offering low fat, low sugar foods in 2010, and saw their lunch totals tick upwards. However, when the more stringent federal requirements went into effect, the district lost $110,000 because students who were eligible for free- and reduced-price lunches no longer wanted them.

“We are concerned about the kids who don’t buy lunches,” he said.

Joetta Sack-Min|June 24th, 2014|Categories: Federal Advocacy, Legislative advocacy, Nutrition, School Boards, School District Reorganization|Tags: , , , , , , , |
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