2015 Advocacy Wrap Up

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This item is cross posted from our final 2015 Advocacy Update. It covers ESSA, appropriations (including tax extenders and a few other riders) as well as a look forward at what to expect in 2016. As always, don't hesitate to contact us with any questions.

ESSA: Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, bring the 8+ year effort to reauthorize No Child Left Behind to a close. We have covered the contents of the bill extensively on the blog. You can access an AASA slide show (with audio) with an overview of ESSA, as well as view an archive of Implementing ESSA: What to Expect in 2016, hosted by the Fordham Institute and featuring AASA advocacy.
Specific to rural and RNEAC priorities, we want to flag four things:
  • Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP): REAP was reauthorized as a standalone program with changes endorsed by NREAC and AASA, including adjusting the sliding scale, updating locale codes, and allowing recipients to choose which program  the receive funding under.
  • USED Rural Study: ESSA requires USED to conduct a study to determine how they serve rural communities.
  • Consolidated Grant Applications: Rural schools can now submit consolidated grant applications. While this has been practice in some states (including Colorado), this codifies the practice for all states and gives cover to local education agencies and educational service agencies working to exercise this flexibility.
  • Title I Formula: The Title I formula remains unchanged. NREAC was at the front of the push for a Title I formula rewrite, forcing the conversation about how to best ensure that Title I dollars are allocated in a manner that focuses on concentration of poverty. Our championed approach (the All Children Are Equal Act, by Rep Glenn Thompson, R-PA) was the basis of what was included in the House bill, but varied from the Senate proposal. The final bill maintained the current formula, did NOT update the quintiles, and requires Congress to conduct a study of the title I formula, its various weighting mechanism, how they do (not) target dollars to the neediest schools, and how they impact small/large/urban/rural schools.
The next push related to ESSA will be implementation, which will include regulations and guidance to further flesh out federal definitions and parameters. USED released a Dear Colleague Letter to State Education Agencies (SEAs) and published a Request for Information (RFI) seeking advice and recommendations concerning topics under Title I of the new law for which regulations are required/expected. It is an important opportunity for stakeholders—like AASA—to provide specific feedback on what those regulations should establish and require.

Appropriations: Congress avoided a shutdown. Congress had failed to complete its appropriations work before the federal fiscal year expired on September 30, and had adopted a short term continuing resolution that expired on December 11. They punted with one more 5-day CR before adopting a final omnibus spending bill. The final FY16 bill totals $1.1 trillion and includes slight increases to education, with discretionary education funding increasing by just over $1.1 billion. AASA continues to serve on the board, and as the past president, of the Committee for Education Funding, which released a table of spending levels.

Tax Extenders: The omnibus did not pass on its own; it was coupled with a package of tax extenders, including three we want to flag for you here:
  • The extenders package permanently extend the teacher tax credit, allowing educators to claim a $250 deduction, allows it to increase for inflation and expands the credit to cover both classroom supplies and professional development courses for educators.
  • The second related tax extender is the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which provides up to $2,500 a year in tax credits for eligible college students.
  • The tax package includes a two-year extension of the Qualified Zone Academy Bond program providing $400 million in QZAB bond allocations per year in 2015 and 2016 to the states and school districts for school renovation and repair.  

Also in the omnibus, but not necessarily funding or tax related: The bill delayed (for two years) the implementation of the Excise (“Cadillac”) Tax under the Affordable Care Act and extends the E-Rate exemption from the Anti-Deficiency Act through 2017. When it comes to school nutrition, the omnibus maintains the language from prior appropriations legislation that allows waivers of the whole grain requirement and postpones full implementation of the sodium requirement. Also, there had been a push to include Child Nutrition Reauthorization on the omnibus, a move that ultimately failed. CNR is expected to be considered early next year under “regular order” with a markup in the Senate Agriculture Committee on a free-standing bill.

Looking Ahead to 2016: Agencies

  • AASA: AASA is working very deliberately on a suite of member and state affiliate supports to position school superintendents as the go-to source for ESSA implementation at the local level. Stay tuned.
  • Agencies
    • USED: USED will be busy with regulations related to ESSA. This will include a coordinated effort with LHHS for the new early education program.
    • Federal Communications Commission: As Commissioner Wheeler enters his final year, his staff are working to determine what priorities he will tackle, and we will be keeping an eye on the Lifeline Order (related to closing the homework gap, with activity expected in Feb/March) and the Education Broadband Services (EBS) program, though that likely falls low on the totem pole.
    • Environmental Protection Agency: The EPA has emerged, once again, on the issue of regulations related to PCBs in light ballasts, which would impact municipal buildings, including schools. Want a refresher? Check out this blog post from March 2014.
    • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: The Obama administration has indicated an interest in reversing course on seat belts on school buses, pushing regulation through if districts don’t abide by their recommendations.  This position change is extremely concerning for our members on multiple levels, primarily with the obvious question about liability and the increased costs to schools to purchase new buses or retrofit their current fleets. There is also great concern that seat belts cause as many problems as they solve in regards to safety. Stay tuned.

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