Raise the Cap! Sequester, Appropriations and FY16

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Federal fiscal year 16 (FY16) starts October 1, and all signs point to Congress (once again) failing to complete its appropriations work on time. We won't have a shut down, but we will likely have a series of continuing resolutions and omnibus bills to patch us through the interim, until a final appropriations bill is adopted. 

I've written before, and it holds true, that the delay of the currently considered but not adopted appropriations bill (and the LHHS appropriations bill, in particular, which includes funding for education) is a good thing. A good thing? To not have federal funding on time? Yes. The overall funding levels in place are very bad. The overall level funding scenario translates into cuts at the education program specific level and the opportunity for Congress to rethink its proposals gives an opportunity for them to raise the overall funding level (or cap).

The current funding caps were established in 2011, as part of the Budget Control Act. Comprehensive and bipartisan, it is law, and was passed as a way to raise the debt ceiling, avoid a government shutdown, and to catalyze a conversation on spending caps and cuts. This piece of legislation also triggered the process of sequester, and set the caps that we are currently operating under. The sequester cap for FY16 represents a third year of level funding. To people running schools systems, level funding paired with growing enrollment and increasing costs mean the perfect storm of truly having to more with less, and that is without reference to your state and local funding realities.

The portion of the federal budget that includes education funding is non-defense and discretionary. Put together, it is the far less than catchy 'Non Defense Discretionary' (NDD) slice of the pie, and our appropriations advocacy has included efforts to support broader NDD funding as a way to support broader education funding. Read more about the NDD Coalition.

Earlier this week, the NDD Coalition hosted a webinar and released a toolkit, both focused on a call to 'Raise the Caps'.  The preface of the toolkit sums it up best: "NDD United is the only organization speaking out on behalf of all of the thousands of programs funded by discretionary funds that have been decimated by budget cuts over the past five years. It’s critical that every NDD United member know where the organization stands. United, we can raise our voice on behalf of the public services Americans rely on. But budget cuts and sequestration are difficult topics to message around: before you can even get to the meat of the problem – that public services Americans rely on are being decimated – you have to engage in a lot of preliminary explanation. And it’s the problem, the solution, and how NDD United is working toward that solution that should form the building blocks of all of NDD United’s messaging. This handbook provides the tools to maximize your public presence and raise your voice on behalf of NDD programs. It offers sample documents for major communications pieces: an op-ed, blog post, press release, media advisory and pitch email. It also offers tips on spreading your message in a way that engages the press, the public and our leaders."

Please use the information made available here to inform your conversations with your full Congressional delegation, letting them know to support raising the caps, that education cuts don't heal, and that our children deserve support and investment, not cuts and eliminations.

AASA will be releasing a related education-specific toolkit in the coming week, in coordination with the Committee for Education Funding. 

AASA Survey - Principal Preparation Programs

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Last week, we sent a survey to all superintendents as a part of a project examining what is and is not working in educator development, including teachers, principals and superintendents. In this survey, we are looking to look more closely at how public and private universities and their principal preparation programs are—or are not—meeting the needs of the candidates they prepare and the communities they serve.

If you have not yet completed the survey, please take a few minutes to do so. Your participation would be greatly appreciated, as every response we get increases the quality of our data. The responses from the survey will be published in a report and will inform the future of the project.

Please email me at lfinnan@aasa.org for a link to the survey or with any questions.

Guest Post: Credentialing Change Threatens Concurrent Enrollment

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Today's guest post comes from Fred Nolan, Executive Director for the Minnesota Rural Education Association. We share this post to gauge the extent to which other communities (rural and non-rural!) are having similar experiences. Dual/concurrent credit can be an excellent option to get students started on a college-bound path who otherwise might not consider such an option.

To the extent that you have a similar experience or relevant information to relay, please contact Fred at fred at e-f-services dot com. 

Minnesota’s growing concurrent enrollment (dual-credit) programs for high school students to earn college credit while attending high school is being threatened by recent actions of the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The Commission is proposing new credentialing requirements for Minnesota’s secondary teachers to teach these college courses under the auspices of a college or university.

MREA Working to Establish Coalition: MREA is very involved with the Center for School Change and Minnesota Association of School Administrators to create a broad coalition of school, business and public officials to protest this change and propose a Minnesota alternative for credentialing high school teachers to teach dual-credit courses. MREA worked successfully with these two education organizations in the 2015 legislature to advocate for an increase of $4.6 million in funding for concurrent enrollment and to strengthen local control over which students can enroll in dual credit courses. 

Southwest Minnesota State University Concurrent Enrollment Coordinator Kimberly Guenther says HLC’s action is a huge change. “Everyone is concerned,” she said. “There are not programs to get this credentialing in a manner that would work for teachers even if they wanted to [meet the requirements].”

HLC Accreditation Determines Grant Eligibility: While not well known, HLC has clout. It is a voluntary accrediting association of post-secondary institutions in 19 Midwest and Rocky Mountain states. It is authorized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit colleges and universities and thereby make their students eligible to receive Federal Pell Grants.

MREA thanks Senator Greg Clausen of Apple Valley, a former high school principal, who was chief author in the 2015 session for concurrent enrollment and is a leader in this current effort.

Learn More

AASA Supports The Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act of 2015

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Today, AASA signed on to The Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act of 2015 (S. 1966), a bipartisan bill introduced by Senators John Boozman (R-AR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) aimed at making summer meals more accessible, especially to students in rural and remote areas.

The bill would introduce two additional models for summer food delivery: summer electronic benefit transfer (EBT) or non-congregate feeding programs. With these improvements, as many as 6.5 million children who are underserved by the program currently could get the food they need during the summer months. These policies complement the site-based model and efforts to strengthen it, and would improve summer nutrition for low-income children no matter where they live.

This legislation is modeled on the successful demonstration projects USDA administered to test both program options. The extensive evaluations showed strong results, including significantly improved access to summer meals, decreased hunger, and improved consumption of healthy foods. 

For more information, find this summary or find the full bill text here.

 

 

 

AASA Joins 17 Other Nat'l Organizations to Comment on Lifeline Program and 'Homework Gap'

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AASA, in coordination with 17 other national organizations, submitted joint comments in response to proposed changes to the Lifeline program, weighing in on the role of access to connectivity in homes, what it means for students, and the opportunity to update the Lifeline program to potentially address this gap. 

"EdLiNC believes that providing broadband access to low-income families is a major step in the right direction to help close the educational equity gap that exists for students who lack access to Internet at home. Without broadband access at home, too many students lack the ability to complete digital homework assignments, perform academic or employment research, apply to college or for summer jobs, and gain access to basic government services. Without broadband access at home, parents may find it difficult to send and receive electronic communications with their children’s teachers or school leaders, access school websites, engage in school activities, and ensure the safety of their children online. Moreover, without broadband access at home, the tremendous work that the Commission did last year in modernizing the E-Rate program, thereby ensuring all k-12 schools and libraries enjoy robust WiFi and broadband connectivity, will be undermined."  Read the full comments.

The coordinating organizations--known collectively as EdLiNC--include:

  • AASA: The School Superintendents Association 
  • American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA)
  • American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
  • American Library Association (ALA)
  • Association of Educational Service Agencies (AESA)
  • Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO)
  • Consortium for School Networking (CoSN)
  • International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP)
  • National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS)
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals  
  • National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA)
  • National Education Association (NEA)
  • National PTA
  • National Rural Education Association (NREA)
  • National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition (NREAC)
  • National School Boards Association (NSBA)
  • United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)

AASA Joins NSBA and Others in Amicus Brief on Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse

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AASA joined forces with 16 state and national organizations to file an Amicus Brief on Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse, asking the Supreme Court to review the Sixth Circuit's erroneous decision making mandatory reports of child abuse vulnerable to federal lawsuits asserting First Amendment retaliation claims. Read the filing

National organizations joining AASA and the National School Boards Association on the brief include:

 

  • American Professional Society on Abuse of Children
  • American School Counselors Association
  • Council of Administrators of Special Education
  • Council for Exceptional Children
  • International Municipal Lawyers Association
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals
  • National Association of School Psychologists
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals
  • National Association of State Directors of Special Education
  • School Social Workers of America Association

 

AASA Call-to-Action on the BOLD Flexibility in IDEA Act (HR 2965)

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While ESEA reauthorization continues to be the focus of AASA’s advocacy efforts this summer, we are doing a special call-to-action this month for superintendent-championed legislation amending IDEA’s maintenance of effort requirements. For years, superintendents, school business officials, special education directors and others, have lamented the rigidity of the maintenance of provisions in IDEA. The recession and its subsequent impact on school district finances brought to light the critical need for more flexibility in the federal statute.

In July, AASA successfully lobbied to have legislation introduced that would amend IDEA to grant districts additional exceptions to reduce the maintenance of effort requirements as long as the provision of special education services to students was not compromised. Rep. Walberg (R) of Michigan introduced the legislation, the Building on Local District (BOLD) Flexibility in IDEA Act (HR 2965), and we need YOUR help to attract additional co-sponsors in the House and companion legislation in the Senate.

What flexibilities are provided to districts under the BOLD Flexibility in IDEA Act?

Districts can reduce MoE if they can demonstrate that (1) they are increasing the efficiency of their special education programs and there is no impact on the provision of special education services to students or (2) the reduction in expenditures is related to employment-related benefits provided to special education personnel (such as pay, retirement contributions, health insurance, etc) as long as the reduction does not result in a reduction in special education services to students.

Districts can also apply to the State for a waiver to reduce MoE if they are facing a serious financial crisis, but only if the districts provide evidence they are still providing FAPE to students. 

5 Reasons Why This Bill Is Helpful to You and Your District

Reason #1: District leaders have an obligation to leverage local education funding in a manner that best serves the maximum number of students. IDEA must provide districts with the flexibility to ensure they are not wrongly penalized for changes in their special education funding levels that in no way impact the provision of special education to students with disabilities. 

Reason #2: Districts should be encouraged to “do more with less” and re-negotiate contracts with vendors, repurpose equipment, change staffing schedules, and find other budgetary efficiencies that do not compromise student services without jeopardizing the federal maintenance of effort requirements. School system leaders have a responsibility to provide academic services to their students as well as a fiduciary responsibility to allocate resources economically to the taxpayers in district. These flexibilities bring these two responsibilities into balance.

Reason #3: States that have enacted reforms that have changed the requirements for districts regarding their contributions to employee pensions or health care should be allowed to reduce IDEA MoE since these budgetary changes do not impact the provision of services to students.

Reason #4: When state and federal IDEA funding levels decline dramatically or a major economic crisis affects a community’s overall resources, districts must be allowed to apply for a waiver to the state to reduce IDEA MoE on an individualized, annual basis. Title I of ESEA enables districts to apply for a waiver when these unfortunate circumstances arise, and IDEA should be aligned to Title I to provide districts with the same flexibility.

Reason #5: Special education students are general education students first. Savings that districts realize in their local special education expenditures should be reallocated to the general education budget, so administrators can dedicate these resources in a manner that best serves all of their students. Artificially maintaining special education funding levels because of an inflexible federal requirement does not allow districts to efficiently allocate limited resources to serve the maximum number of students.

Please take a moment to reach out to your Congressional Delegation and ask them to support this important bill. Feel free to include our one-pager, which is available here.