Articles in the FRN Conference 2011 category

NSBA in the News: “Should children have to compete for their education?”

Mary Fertakis, a member of the Tukwila, Wash., school board and president-elect of the Washington State School Directors’ Association, wrote a column for the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog this week discussing competitive federal grant programs and the disadvantages many students and school districts face.

Fertakis posed the question, “Should children have to compete for their education?” to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at NSBA’s 2011 Federal Relations Network conference in February. Read the column and be sure to leave your comments.

Joetta Sack-Min|August 18th, 2011|Categories: FRN Conference 2011, Rural Schools, Educational Finance, School Reform, Race to the Top (RTTT)|Tags: , , |

Making your school safe for LGBT students

The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) recommended four evidence-based strategies on addressing anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) bullying in schools. “Supportive student groups; supportive school staff; inclusive curriculum, and comprehensive policies and state laws,” said Jenny Betz, education manager for GLSEN.

Betz and GLSEN public policy director Shawn Gaylord presented findings from the organization’s most recent National School Climate Survey, personal stories from students, and state policy information to drive home the need to make the school environment safer and more supportive for these students at an Annual Conference session Sunday.

Betz and Gaylord followed an opening video featuring Dustin Rader, a transgender student who came out to his family and school while in high school, and the personal story of a parent of a transgender child shared by Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. The latter urged school board members to make sure that LGBT students are not harassed, bullied, or hurt in any way because of their differences.

Sunday’s session was first presented at last year’s NSBA conference in Chicago. “The session was of great interest to school leaders last year, and with the high visibility suicides of students who were bullied or harassed over the last several months, several related to their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Brenda Z. Greene, NSBA director of school health and moderator for the session, “we knew it would be important to present it again.”

Highlights of the data presented by GLSEN include that nearly a third of the 61 percent of LGBT students who reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation missed class at least once and missed at least one day of school in the last month. “Those students aren’t in school learning and are costing districts revenue,” said Betz.

“The effects of a hostile school climate,” she said, “have poorer educational outcomes, including decreased educational aspirations, sense of school belonging, and academic achievement, and increased absenteeism.”

Gaylord explained the two approaches to safe schools laws: anti-bullying laws and nondiscrimination laws. “While states are passing these laws,” said Gaylord, “so are local districts.” Maps showing which states have adopted these laws can be found on GLSEN’s website.

Audience questions addressed a transgender accommodation request for a 5-year-old, managing political controversy associated with supporting Gay-Straight Alliances at a high school, and more. GLSEN staff is available for more discussion and to share materials at Booth 1518.

Erin Walsh|April 10th, 2011|Categories: Bullying, FRN Conference 2011, NSBA Annual Conference 2011, School Climate, School Board News|

New resources guide schools on LGBT bullying issues

“For youth to thrive in their schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe,” states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) new research and prevention page regarding the bullying of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual) adolescents in U.S. schools.

But the new research shows this is not the case for many LGBT youth in the U.S. According to an online survey conducted in 2009, nearly one in three responding LGBT teens admitted skipping at least one school day in the previous month due to concerns for their safety.

The new CDC resources are a “nice tie between public health and education,” said Brenda Z. Greene, director of NSBA’s school health programs.

“When students are disengaged or bullied, they don’t feel safe and they’re not going to do as well in school—if they show up at all,” Greene said.

LGBT adolescents face tremendous stresses, which increase their risk for mental health problems and substance abuse. A national study of lesbian, gay, and bisexual 7th through 12th graders found that these youth were twice more likely than their straight classmates to have attempted suicide.

As a result, school board members and administrators are being called to take a stand against the bullying epidemic.

“This is a good time to be proactive,” said Roberta Stanley, NSBA’s director of federal affairs, at a Feb. 7 presentation on digital bullying at the Federal Relations Network conference. “You don’t want to be the one to be [negatively] highlighted.”

The CDC recommends enforcing “clear policies, procedures and activities designed to prevent bullying.” Additionally, an atmosphere with supportive staff,  psychological “safe spaces” and the development of student run organizations such as the Gay Straight Alliance can help LGBT youth flourish.

To improve sexual education, schools can use  “inclusive terminology” and cover issues relevant to LGBT youth. Information about community resources for HIV and other sexually transmitted disease testing should also be provided by schools.

“When people are talking about an important issue as if you’re not there, you’re not going to pay attention,” said Greene. Ignoring same-sex couple issues “disenfranchises” LGBT teens, who have a lower chance of engaging in “high risk” health behaviors if included in curricula.

NSBA’s 2011 annual conference, held April 9 to 11 in San Francisco, will include a presentation about “Welcoming Schools”, a Human Rights Campaign initiative to help public schools create a healthy and productive climate for all students.

These changes will help create “positive, supportive, and healthy environments,” which “promote acceptance and respect and help youth feel valued,” according to the CDC. But in order to succeed, Greene said, school employees must also have a “commitment to kids and a commitment to doing the right thing.”

-Melissa Major, publications intern

Erin Walsh|February 11th, 2011|Categories: Bullying, FRN Conference 2011, Wellness, School Security, School Climate, School Board News|

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: School Boards, FRN Conference 2011, Educational Legislation, Educational Finance, School Board News|

Federal bullying definition raises concerns

A few months ago, NSBA General Counsel Francisco Negron received a “Dear Colleague” letter from high up in the U.S. Department of Education. It had to do with the department’s newly expanded definition of what constitutes bullying in the public schools.

“When anyone calls you a ‘colleague’ and puts ‘dear’ in front of it, you know you’re in for something,” Negron said Monday at an FRN Conference session.

Among others things, the letter redefines harassment from “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” behavior to “severe, pervasive, OR persistent” behavior, Negron said.

And instead of holding school staff to an “actual knowledge standard” for responding – that is, they have erred if they knew about the harassment and did not address it – the letter said the standards should be “knows or reasonably should have known.”

“Bullying is bad,” Negron said. “We should be doing something about it. But the feds should not be doing things that expand the definition of bullying.”

The new definition will encourage lawsuits against school districts, Negron said. If a school districts points to case law adhering to the “actual knowledge standard,” Negron said, the plaintiffs might respond “But look, the feds say it right here” that they believe the standard should be “should have known.”

Also of concern is action by states such as New Jersey, which now specifies a timeline and procedure for handling bullying complaints.

“That’s going to take (local) discretion away,” Negron said. “You need to look out, because it might be coming to a legislature near you.”

Some school districts have responded to bullying and other forms of harassment in innovative and effective ways, Negron said. For example, the Tampa schools have a “bullying reporting button” that enables parents and students to report incidents directly to the principal.

NSBA has taken a strong position on bullying in schools for years, but particularly in recent months. The association’s response to the “Dear Colleague” letter is here. Last August, NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant attended the first Federal Bullying Summit to discuss the issue and the concerns of school districts.

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

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: Governance, School Boards, FRN Conference 2011, Educational Legislation, School Board News|

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: Governance, School Boards, FRN Conference 2011, Educational Legislation, Educational Finance, School Vouchers, Urban Schools, School Reform, School Board News|

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

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

Tennessee officials share Race to the Top experience

As part of the federal stimulus package, President Obama funneled $4.35 billion into the Race to the Top (RTTT), a competitive grant program that required states to work collaboratively with school districts and teachers unions in developing education reform measures that address, among other things, achievement gaps, high school graduation rates, and college and career readiness.

It’s been a year since Tennessee and Delaware were named the winners in the first round of RTTT and six months since Massachusetts was among 10 states named in the second round. All three states shared their experiences at an FRN Conference session.

Nancy Williamson, president of Tennessee School Boards Association, said her state was ripe for wholesale education reform, having expanded its charter school law, enacted new standards through the Tennessee Diploma Project, and changed the funding formula through its Education Improvement Act.

In addition, it boasted one of the oldest and most robust databases for tracking student growth, the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System.

“But the one thing I think really helped us in Race to the Top was the whole state bought into it,” said Williamson, who also serves as chairman of the Oneida Special School District Board of Education. “The [Tennessee Education Association] came in and worked and accepted what was going on, 100 percent of [local education agencies] bought into it.”

Despite winning $501 million in RTTT monies, Tennessee, and Williamson’s county in particular, still have sizable obstacles to overcome. Not only has her county held the highest unemployment rate in the state, about 20 percent, Tennessee’s sales tax-based economy does little for Oneida, which depends on other counties for goods and services.

“It seems like every time unemployment jumped, kids would start dropping out of school,” said Williamson. RTTT monies have enabled the district to build up a credit recovery system allowing students to graduate with a regular state diploma. Nine students have benefited from this program so far.

In another instance of RTTT funds being put to good use, a vacancy at the local community college provided an opportunity for the district to pay for one of its biology teachers to become dual credentialed.

“And now our students have the ability to leave with 30 credits,” she said. “This is how you fill in and use the money. Find your need and then go find the person who’ll meet that need.”

Naomi Dillon|February 7th, 2011|Categories: School Boards, FRN Conference 2011, Federal Programs, School Reform, School Board News|

Turnaround reform in Savannah

Beach High School in Georgia’s Savannah-Chatham School District is a historic but chronically underperforming school. The school board received a Department of Education’s School Improvement Grants (SIG) to help increase achievement and graduation rates.

Savannah-Chatham School Board member Lori Brady spoke at a national issues session at Monday’s FRN Conference about how her district is using the federal grant money to use the turnaround model of reform at Beach.

Brady called the decision to use the turnaround model at Beach High School a “no brainer.”

“You change and start over,” she said. “These folks want to be in the building. They know what the issues are and they want to be there.”

The Department of Education’s SIGs go to districts agreeing to use one of four reform models:

# Closure of the school, sending students to other schools in the district

# Restarting the school as a charter school

# Transformation, which uses a data-driven instructional model

# Turnaround, which requires replacing the principal and half of the staff; the staff must reapply for their jobs.

The Savannah board decided to use the turnaround model for several reasons, said Brady. It had reconstituted an elementary school earlier without any additional state or federal money.

Also, the model has several benefits, she said, including removing barriers that inhibit improvement and granting the principal operation flexibility to staffing professional developing, student code of conduct, and bell schedule.

The grant will be paid to the district in three years — $1.2 million the first year; $1.1 million the second year; and about $1 million the third year.

“I’ve been on the board long enough to know that I get fearful when I get grant money because there is always strings attached, ” said Brady, “but we thought it was in the best interest of the school and the community.”

The main concern about the grants and the reform is future sustainability. “Current economic conditions continue to put pressure on funding,” said Brady. The instructional reform model the school is using, American’s Choice, must be paid for every year, for example. Also, the school has an extended day program for students, which will have to be maintained.

Angela Palm, the director of policy for the Georgia School Boards Association, gave a national overview of the four SIG reforms. Over half of the 730 schools that received grant money are high schools. Of those schools, 71 percent chose transformation, 21 percent chose turnaround; 5 percent reopened as charters, and 3 percent did school closures.

Whatever the model the district chooses, Palm said, key issues include:

# Be prepared to do some work on your own, since there’s a scarcity of proven turnaround experts or organizations

# Address the lack of ongoing operational funds to sustain efforts and have enough time to plan before starting

# Make sure that principals and school leadership teams have the will and skill, and authority to drive change in demanding environments

#Understand what this means for individuals. “When staff sees the list of choices, these are scary things for adults. There are a lot of things for them to deal with,” said Palm.

# Monitor for compliance, meeting goals, and the need for support.

“Most important,'” said Palm, “is to articulate a powerful vision and be willing to make it so.”

Kathleen Vail|February 7th, 2011|Categories: School Boards, FRN Conference 2011, School Reform, School Board News|
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