Articles in the School Boards category

Rep. Fattah Speaks with CUBE Members on Budget

Meeting with urban school leaders from NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE), U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah said that President Obama’s willingness to invest in education during economic hard times was a bold but necessary decision.

“We face some challenges . . . a fiscal deficit,” Fattah (D-Pa.) told urban school leaders during CUBE’s annual Congressional Luncheon at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

“But another great deficit our nation faces is in human capital,” he said. “We cannot possibly live up to our ideals, live up to our potential as a nation, if we leave so many of our young people behind.”

Last year’s stimulus package put $100 billion into public education and mitigated the negative impact that devastating budget cuts could have had, Fattah told school leaders. But the stimulus “was a one-shot deal, and [Obama's] budget is about turning the country in a different direction.”

Even in tough economic times, a greater regular investment in education—particularly in urban education —is essential given the high economic costs of allowing students to fail, he said. A recent report suggested that the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would rise 3 percent to 5 percent “if we would just eliminate most of the disparities that exist in terms of educational attainment of the young people in our urban centers.”

In fact, he suggested, the economic cost of these educational disparities “are larger than the costs of the entire economic recession that we face. So we have work to do.”

That’s all the more true given the heavy investment that China and India are making in their educational systems. “They’re ramping up their educational systems. We can’t compete in the long-term and leave so many of our people  . . . people who’ve been written off.”

Although Fattah expressed support for much of Obama’s budget plan, he said he was particularly gratified by the proposal to put $323 million into GEAR UP—Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.

The federal education program was sponsored by Fattah a decade ago to provide college-readiness support for low-income students.

“It has made a remarkable transformation in the districts where it’s been implemented,” he said. For example, he noted, South Dakota officials have included GEAR UP in their application for Race to the Top Funds because of its success in dramatically boosting graduation rates and college entry among Native American students.

Fattah also took the opportunity to praise urban school board members for their hard work. And he urged them to make their voices heard on Capitol Hill.

“We’ve got to look at what’s in front of us,” he said. “We have a president who is willing to carry his part, and those of us who believe in education is the lynchpin of our future, we need to stand up” and carry part of the load, too.

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Del Stover|February 2nd, 2010|Categories: Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, FRN Conference 2010, Governance, School Board News, School Boards, Urban Schools|

Va. Delegation Shares Concerns with Sen. Warner

When a delegation of Virginia school board members visited Capitol Hill this morning to meet with federal lawmakers, its first stop was the office of Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)—who cheerfully expressed his readiness to hear its opinions.

But, he added quickly, he had a pretty good idea of what they’d come to say: “Fix NCLB and send us more money.”

That generated its share of chuckles. But the score of visiting board members had spent recent days debating and studying the issues at NSBA’s Federal Relations Network annual conference.

So they still took the opportunity to emphasize their concerns—and their hope that Warner could get federal help to local schools.

How much that help was needed was voiced by Patricia Edmonson of the Virginia Beach school system. Just prior to Warner’s appearance, she told School Board News that last year’s stimulus package had provided “an 11th hour rescue” that spared her school board from making devastating cuts in spending.

Without assistance from somewhere, however, she said her board would be looking this year at budget cuts of $40 million to $50 million. “That’s going to be tough on everybody.”

One school board member told Warner that she hoped that the federal government could provide some relief from the punitive sanctions imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act.

But, while acknowledging the problems in NCLB’s accountability system, Warner expressed caution about a suggestion for a moratorium on sanctions. True accountability, he said, means federal law “has to have some teeth.”

Michelle Flynn, chair for the Greene County Public Schools, expressed concern about the Obama administration’s interest in putting new funding into competitive grants.

She, along with others, told Warner that there were worries that small, rural school systems would find it difficult to compete against the grant-writing teams that larger, better-staffed school systems could afford.

Warner ended the meeting with a mild warning. The education community recently has seen more federal support put into K-12 schools, he said, but given the economy and future budget projections, it’s not clear that’s sustainable.

“Unless something dramatic changes  . . . we can’t keep growing at that level.”

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Del Stover|February 2nd, 2010|Categories: Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, FRN Conference 2010, Governance, School Board News, School Boards|

School board members take to the hill

School Board News is reporting live from NSBA’s Federal Relations Network conference.

The Federal Relations Network (FRN) helped secure many legislative victories for school boards in 2009 and is now tasked with even more pressing advocacy efforts this year, NSBA’s leaders said at the FRN opening session. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, securing federal funding in light of state budget shortfalls, and President Obama’s challenge for schools to provide a world-class education for all students will highlight this year’s advocacy efforts. It comes after a year with significant victories—most notably helping secure the $100 billion in federal stimulus funds—but also a time in which the Obama administration took more control of the federal role and pushed through several initiatives without Congressional approval.

Visit School Board News for excellent coverage of this exciting event.

Erin Walsh|February 2nd, 2010|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards|

FRN Audience Reacts to Duncan’s Remarks

Many school board members said they liked what U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan had to say in his remarks Monday to attendees of NSBA’s Federal Relations Network annual conference.

Quite a few attendees also questioned whether good intentions would translate into good policy that supports local school governance.

For Lori Brady of Georgia’s Savannah-Chatham Public Schools, that means seeing how Congress responds to the proposals that Duncan outlined.

“I’m certainly pleased with what he had to say, but I want to see action . . . to see it happen,” she said. “I don’t want to hear the talk, I want to see Congress walk the walk.”

That’s particularly true when it comes to funding, which is “always an issue,” she said. “I was disturbed not to hear something about when we’ll fund IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) at full level.”

Also generally positive—but cautious—to Duncan’s proposals was Don Blevins, chair of the Waterford Public Schools and president of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education.

“He seems well intentioned and has all the right positions in general,” he said. “I hope that he can make sure that attitude percolates down into the bureaucracy.”

For example, Blevins said, he hopes lower levels of the education department will follow up on Duncan’s reassurances that proposed new competitive grants—targeted directly at local school systems—would have an application process that would not be beyond the expertise or resources of smaller, poorer school systems.

Previous remarks by Duncan in support of charter schools concerned Panfilo Contreras, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association. Coming from a state that’s “a model for how not to do charters,” he was, however, relieved to hear Duncan talk about holding charter schools more accountable.

“We need to do away with charters that don’t work,” he said.

Board member Jesse Morris of Gary, Ind., expressed concern that Duncan didn’t say more about helping urban school systems. He noted that federal officials didn’t pay enough attention when Indiana officials bolstered the state’s general fund with  stimulus dollars designated for education—and left urban school systems hurting financially.

Meanwhile, board colleague Barbara Leek worried that the new federal interest in competitive grants would force her school system to divert resources to grant writers.

True, Duncan said existing Title I and IDEA funds would still be distributed as normal, she acknowledged. But diverting new funds to help expand “successful” strategies won’t help her school board deal with a lowest-performing high school that has defied reform.

“We’re not going to be able to fully address the needs of that school without more money and help.”

The final word came from Bobby Rigues, a first-time FRN Conference attendee from Aledo, Texas. He said Duncan’s remarks—and the entire conference—was a “very unique and enlightening experience.”

“It allowed me to see the broad perspective, the big picture,” he said. “To hear a person of that position give us his perspective . . . that definitely added value to the message we need to send [to Capitol Hill].”

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Del Stover|February 1st, 2010|Categories: Educational Legislation, FRN Conference 2010, Governance, School Board News, School Boards, School Reform|Tags: |

Duncan Discusses Budgets, Reform at FRN

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reaffirmed the Obama administration’s commitment to public education Monday as he addressed the Federal Relations Network, saying it wants to increase federal funding for education even as it challenges states and school districts to “raise the bar” on student achievement.

“At a time when other government expenditures are frozen, the president is increasing aid to education, because the president sees that education is the path to economic security,” Duncan said on the same day that President Obama released a federal budget proposal that raises education funding by $3.5 billion.

School board members have welcomed the money and the administration’s passion and commitment. But during the question and answer period, several speakers reiterated concerns expressed throughout the conference. Why, for example, are states and schools being asked to compete for Race to the Top Funds rather than having this money as part of their regular funding? Is this unfair to poor and rural district don’t have the capacity to compete with their wealthier counterparts?

“We’re not taking money from anybody to give to someone else,” Duncan said, noting that RTTT money is in addition to regular funding. “We’re just interested in two things: closing the achievement gap, and raising the bar for all children.”

Duncan assured a questioner who asked about earlier statements that seemed to support mayoral takeovers, that he was more interested in districts partnering with other private and governmental entities than in having them taken over. However, he said, some extremely low-performing districts, such as Detroit, need outside help.

When a questioner from Houston asked how districts can compete for RTTT funds when their states fail to support them (Texas Gov. Rick Perry has eschewed the program), Duncan recalled his experience as head of the Chicago Public Schools, where he had to deal with a succession of nine state superintendents.

“I come from Chicago, which is [in] one of the most ‘gubernatorally challenged’ states in the nation,” Duncan quipped.

Duncan got his biggest applause when he talked about the administration’s plan to directly fund student loans for college. “We’re cutting banks out of the process,” he said, “which will save us literally billions a year for the next decade.”

Duncan acknowledged problems with No Child Left Behind, saying it unfairly labeled some schools as “failing,” and forced some schools to cut out non-tested subjects such as history and art. He said the administration wants to fix these programs when the law is reauthorized.

“Because NCLB narrowed the curriculum, we’re looking to expand it in again so children get a well-rounded education.”

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|February 1st, 2010|Categories: Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Federal Programs, FRN Conference 2010, Governance, School Board News, School Boards|Tags: |

Federal Money for Infrastructure Is Available

Congress through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided new funding mechanisms for capital improvement programs in school districts across the country. Nearly $25 billion has been allocated through bonds that schools can use to acquire land, build new schools, repair and renovate existing schools, and even pay for software and staff training.

But it’s not easy money, as some school districts have discovered, which is why an afternoon breakout session at the FRN Conference was devoted to helping educators understand, and more importantly, get their hands on these federal monies.

Approximately $22 million has been siphoned into the Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCB) for 2009 and 2010, with 40 percent of the bond authority designated to the 100 largest districts in the country and the 25 districts deemed by the U.S. Department of Education to be the neediest. The remaining 60 percent of bonds are authorized to states, which each have their own method of divvying up the bonds.

Tennessee, for example, uses a lottery system, while each district in Ohio receives a specific allocation, said Deborah Rigsby, director of NSBA’s federal legislation division. The exciting thing about QSCB is that it is a zero-interest bond program, hence only the principal needs to be paid back in a predetermined amount of time to the bond holder — at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

“This is a wonderful subsidy, unfortunately this subsidy hasn’t materialized for every district because this subsidy is a little more difficult to sell to the traditional investor,” said Brett Mandel, CEO of EddieTech, the National Educational Technology Funding Corporation, a new startup designed to be a clearinghouse and resource for districts wanting to tap into the federal infrastructure bonds.

Mandel said the IRS has yet to come up with regulations around these bonds, which has led some lending institutions to sit on the sidelines or institute fees or supplemental coupons to hedge their bets. Complicating matters are the stipulations built into use of these bonds. For instance, an underwriter, bond counsel, and financial advisor are required.

“That’s where we come in, perhaps we can make this easier,” says Mandel, who has partnered with organizations like NSBA, AASA, and NEA to connect with school districts and help them through the process. “We essentially want to make this a plug-and-play, where you sign here, give us the information, of course you get the local approval, and we get you the money as soon as possible.”

EddieTech’s website was expected to go live soon.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|February 1st, 2010|Categories: Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Educational Technology, FRN Conference 2010, Governance, School Board News, School Boards|Tags: |

Got food?

Baltimore City Schools braved the snow and ice to come to Washington this Saturday to talk about their School Food program at the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) Issues Seminar.  While many may not find this to be the most exciting topic in the education reform era to talk about, it is something relevant to all school children in America.  The Baltimore City School Board is backing up this plan due to so much research supporting the impact of school nutrition on student achievement.

Baltimore presented their relatively new program that is getting a lot of attention, and for good reason.  As one example, they had a 33 acre farm (that was owned by the school) to experiment with growing food as a working farm.  Students run the farm and learn not only agriculture techniques in an urban setting, but also utilize math, chemistry, and other science skills as they figure out what grows well in Maryland.  That information is then given to local farmers to help grow more food to serve to students. 

One of the architects of this new plan is Tony Geraci, who has been a successful restaurateur and knows how to make a meal.  His idea is to make school food something that students actually enjoy, which if you remember from your own childhood, would be a difficult task.  One big change they’ve made is having a six week rotation for their menu, with over 30 different meal options for students.  With over 80% of students in Baltimore City Schools being on a free or reduced lunch program, what Baltimore puts on the plates in front of students has a huge impact on their rising academic gains.  In fact, Mr. Geraci discussed how the program reaches out to thousands of breakfasts and dinners as well as school lunches. 

If your district needs fresh ideas about school meals, how to keep the food sources local, and how to actually make them taste good, looking at Baltimore City’s program will be worth it.

Kevin Scott|February 1st, 2010|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards, Student Achievement, Wellness|

Proposed Budget Has Increases, Potential Pitfalls

The Obama administration today proposed a $49.7 billion budget for education, an increase of $3.5 billion in discretionary funds, which shifts much of those increases into competitive grant programs.

The proposed budget includes a total $3 billion increase for Elementary and Secondary Education Act programs. However, the plan would not increase Title I grants, the flagship program, but would increase the competitive programs, including $1.35 billion to continue Race to the Top grants, $500 million for the Investing in Innovation (3i) fund, increases to programs that focus on revamping failing schools, charters, school safety; and programs to prepare, retain, and reward good teachers and school leaders.

“Race to the Top taught us that competition and incentives drive reform,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “So even as we continue funding important formula programs like Title I and [the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act], we are adding money to competitive programs that are changing the landscape of our education system.”

In a conference call announcing the budget plan, Duncan expressed concern that the No Child Left Behind Act has encouraged states to “dumb down” their standards, thus creating a “race to the bottom.”

NSBA’s Executive Director Anne L. Bryant applauded the proposal’s “extraordinary infusion of money into pre-K and higher education,” but expressed concern about the emphasis on competitive grants and low-income districts’ abilities to compete for those grants. Many of those districts have the most to gain from the grants and are in the most need of extra funds, she said.

“We are heartened by the priority the administration is putting on K-12 education, and there is some true innovation and creative thinking in the budget plan released today. Given the economic realities our nation is facing this is a good start,” she said. “The focus on competitive grants and decision to provide no increase to Title I means rural districts and children in the poorest parts of the country will be left behind. Those districts do not have the capacity to compete for grants — unless you want to shift money from teachers to grant writers.”

According to the Education Department, the budget increases would include:

  • $539 million for innovative teacher and leader reforms such as performance pay, for a total of $950 million, and $269 million for teacher and leader recruitment and preparation, a total of $405 million;
  • $354 million for school turnaround grants, bringing the total up to $900 million;
  • $250 million for IDEA state grants, bringing the total to $11.7 billion; and
  • $197 million for programs designed to “promote a well-rounded education, supporting comprehensive literacy, STEM and other core subjects including history and arts.”

Joetta Sack-Min, Online Editor

Joetta Sack-Min|February 1st, 2010|Categories: Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Federal Programs, FRN Conference 2010, Governance, School Board News, School Boards|Tags: |

Sen. Collins Receives Award From NSBA

Last year, as state governments confronted huge budget shortfalls in the face of a national economic meltdown, it was clear to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that the federal stimulus package under consideration needed money set aside specifically for public education.

“I cannot imagine what the state of our schools would have been without [that] money,” she told attendees during Monday’s Congressional Awards Luncheon at NSBA’s Annual Federal Relations Network Conference.

Collins, who was presented with an award of special recognition for her efforts in passing last year’s American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, offered some insight into the “extremely difficult” negotiations on the stimulus package that sometimes ran “deep into the night.”

The weeks that went into crafting the package were well spent, she said. In hard economic times “it is absolutely critical that the federal government provide relief to states . . . to help them avoid draconian cuts to critical education programs and prevent the loss of thousands of positions.”

Although she and a colleague lobbied for even more education money, Collins said, the final stimulus package still represented a solid investment in the nation’s schools—more than $90 billion.

Of that, she said, she was particularly pleased that $12.2 billion was set aside for programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

“I fought particularly hard for more education money for special education programs, as [IDEA] is the granddaddy of all federal mandates,” she said, earning a round of applause.

Collins said putting more money into IDEA was only right. “I personally believe it’s essential that Congress fulfill the promise that was made in the 1970s, when it first passed IDEA, and that was for the federal government to pay 40 percent” of the mandate’s cost. “Think what a difference that would make.”

Now the fight for education funding turns to the fiscal 2011 budget proposal, which looks to boost education funding by $3 billion, she said.

As they prepared to head to Capitol Hill the next day to meet their elected representatives, conference attendees were encouraged by Collins to make their opinions known.  “You’re the ones on the front lines,” she said.

She should know. Over the years, she said, both her mother and younger brother had served on their local school boards.

“I know first-hand how important your service is,” she said, “and I understand very well how challenging it is, particular when you’re faced with such difficult economic times.”

Also recognized by NSBA’s Federal Relations Network for their outstanding service to public education in 2009 were Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.).

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Del Stover|February 1st, 2010|Categories: Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, FRN Conference 2010, School Board News, School Boards, Special Education|Tags: |

FRN Attendees Hear About ESEA, Future for K-12

Federal Relations Network conference attendees learned about the current issues in Congress—funding, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, and the future vision for K-12 education at Monday morning’s sessions.

Monday’s sessions were designed to give attendees a full picture of Washington’s political scene related to education before they visit Capitol Hill. Later today Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will discuss the Obama administration’s budget proposal and the ESEA reauthorization.

NSBA Associate Director Michael A. Resnick told the audience to expect that many members of Congress will say they’re in difficult positions.

“If they think their job is hard, they ought to come to a school board meeting,” he quipped.

Joetta Sack-Min, Online Editor

Joetta Sack-Min|February 1st, 2010|Categories: Educational Legislation, FRN Conference 2010, School Board News, School Boards|Tags: |
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