School Board News Today, an online publication of NSBA, provides timely and relevant stories and analysis from NSBA and other news outlets to school board members, administrators, and all others interested in K-12 education.
Articles tagged with FRN
More than 200 photos from NSBA’s Leadership and Federal Relations Network conferences are available for download on our Flickr site. Go to www.flickr.com/photos/nsbaimages.
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 positivebut cautiousto 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 grantstargeted directly at local school systemswould 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 educationand 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 remarksand the entire conferencewas 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
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
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 http://eddietech.org was expected to go live soon.
Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor
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
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 schoolsmore 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
President Obama’s budget proposal is expected to address changes in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, a welcome relief for school board members and administrators across the country.
According to news reports shortly before the budget plan was released on Monday, the Obama administration plans to do away with the No Child Left Behind foundation that all children be proficient by 2014 and instead focus on shifting federal funding formulas to reflect academic progress.
One of the main complaints by school officials is that the law focuses on punitive measures if a school fails to meet adequate yearly progress each year. A new funding formula would be based in part on students’ academic progress, according to the New York Times.
One concern is that more federal funding will be distributed through competitive grants, along the lines of the Race to the Top program, which would put districts with few resources at a disadvantage against those with savvy grant writers.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will speak on the budget and ESEA reauthorization at the Federal Relations Network Conference later this afternoon. NSBA also will have a statement on the budget and ESEA later this afternoon.
Joetta Sack-Min, Online Editor
Federal Relations Network conference attendees learned about the current issues in Congressfunding, 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
In theory, the Obama administration’s Race to the Top (RTTT) program goes something like this: States compete for an unprecedented $4.35 billion in federal dollars, and the ones that win use the money to fund innovative school reform programs that will serve as models for the nation.
In practice, the process of applying for RTTT is a messy one, with school boards, state legislators, teacher unions, and others seeking input into a process that, in many states, has been anything but transparent.
That was the view of several panelists at a Sunday afternoon General Session of the Federal Relations Network Conference titled “Race to the Top: Are You Ready to Run?” For example, Kevin McCann, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association, said, “I don’t know to this day who is really on [the] design team” that is putting together Oregon’s application, even though his educator wife asked to a member.
“It’s entirely possible,” he quipped, “that she got chosen and never told me.”
Lack of transparency at the state level is one problem. Other issues mentioned by panel members include the lack of union buy-in (over concerns about teacher evaluation changes, among other things) and the speed at which applications totaling hundreds of pages must be put together.
“The national timeline we all face this was way too short,” McCann said.
Still, said Panfilo H. Contreras, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, school districts need to embrace RTTT or risk being left behind as other players move forward on school reform.
“This, to me, is a classic example of getting things taken away from us if we don’t get out in front of this,” Contreras said.
The money isn’t a lot in the context of many state budgets, panelists said. For example, New York would receive $700 million if it is one of the states selected in the first round.
“That runs the New York State public schools for four days,” said David Little, director of government relations for the New York State School Boards Association.
But the money is only part of RTTT’s rationale, panelists agreed.
“There a question of why we applied,” Contreras said. “Did we apply for the money, or did we apply because we’re really interested in student achievement?”
Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor