August Recess: A Time for Action!

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This is a longer blog post, but very relevant to the August recess and the way school system leaders can best use the time that Representatives and Senators spend in their home district (during the month of August) to engage on critical federal policy topics. Especially relevant this summer? ESEA reauthorization and appropriations.

This blog post has 3 sections:

  • Your advocacy matters.
  • Congressional To-Do List for 2015.
  • AASA August Call to Action
    • ESEA
    • School Nutrition
    • IDEA Maintenance of Effort
    • Appropriations/Sequester

Your Advocacy Matters

  • When it comes to advocacy, your voice matters. No one is better positioned to tell your district’s story than you are, and in a time where Congress is driven by anecdotes and a desire to pull a story out of their back pocket, why not have them tell YOUR district’s story? They make these decisions whether you weigh in or not; help them make the better decision.
  • The nation’s public schools are the largest employer in the country. No one employs more people than the nation’s schools. At the local level, most of you work for your community’s single largest employer. That is an important role, something you can and should leverage in your advocacy.
  • Beyond the size of local education agencies (LEAs) as employers, school system leaders are uniquely positioned: Not only are you all positioned to detail the impact of policies on your school; you are also in direct contact with a series of other important constituencies. In you, elected officials have an education expert and a community leader, someone who can report on the students, parents, local business, community trends, and more.
  • Do not underestimate the importance of your role in advocacy!

Congressional ‘To Do’ List, Fall 2015: Congress does not enjoy a stellar reputation, something public opinion polls bolster. When they come back from recess this year, their ‘to do’ list for the remainder of 2015 is intense, and that is putting it politely. See related Politico Article. Post-Labor Day thru the end of 2015, here’s what’s on their dance card:

  • A continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown. This would need to be completed by September 30. 
  • The debt ceiling – deadline now not until November/December
  • Tax extenders that expire on December 31
  • The highway bill, which will expire again on October 31
  • Export-Import bank – already expired
  • Budget reconciliation related to repealing the Affordable Care Act
  • The ESEA conference
  • The conference report on the Defense authorization bill.
  • The Iran nuclear deal – a 60-day clock is ticking
  • Other issues including cybersecurity, the CURES bill, Toxic Substances Control Act rewrite, energy legislation, etc. 

Recess Call to Action: There’s a lot for them to work on this fall. It’s important that your FULL delegation hear from you and your colleagues while they are home to visit. With that in mind, here are the top-line messages to carry to them. Please make sure to check back to the blog, as the ESEA-related items will be increasingly detailed as we get into and through ESEA conference.

  • ESEA: Contact your full delegation about ESEA Conference (full details below). The asks are simple. Reaching out to both your Senators and your Representative, please relay:
    • Complete ESEA Reauthorization. We need Congress (both sides of the Hill, both sides of the aisle) to work together to deliver our nation’s schools and the students they serve a comprehensive reauthorization of ESEA. It is imperative that members support the deliberate work of the ESEA conference committee and vote for ESEA reauthorization. (There are some caveats to this, namely the inclusion of vouchers, but those chances are slim and we would communicate with you about those.)
    • When it comes to conference specifics, use this list to relay priority positions:
      • NO to vouchers and portability.
      • NO to expansion of federal accountability. We support what was in the Senate ESEA bill, and would be opposed to efforts to increase federal mandate/prescription in accountability, which would represent a step back to AYP 2.0 and high-stakes testing.
      • Alternate Assessment: Maintain current law. The Senate bill includes language that would limit the number of students who can take alternate assessments at 1%, a significant tightening of current law, which allows students to take the tests determined appropriate by the IEP team, but only using 1% of alternate assessments in accountability.
      • Maintenance of Effort: We support current law, as written in the Senate bill. We are opposed to the House bill, which eliminates MoE.
      • Funding Caps: ESEA is authorizing statute, and the authority to determine program funding level should rest with the appropriators, those in charge of allocating federal dollars. We are OPPOSED to the House version’s funding caps.
  • School Nutrition
    • Increase reimbursement rate by 10 cents per meal to offset some additional spending required by increased nutrition standards.
    • Return whole grain requirement to 50% from current 100%.
    • Keep sodium limit at Target I, cancelling increases planned in 2017 and 2022.
    • Allow anything that can be sold as part of the reimbursable meal to be sold a la carte, no matter the day of the week.
    • Change fruit and vegetable requirement from “must take” to “may take” to allow students to only take fruits or vegetables they intend to eat, which will decrease plate waste and wasted spending.
  • IDEA Maintenance of Effort
    • Legislation to make critical improvements to IDEA’s maintenance of effort provisions was introduced in July by Rep. Walberg (R-MI). The bill is called the Building on Local District (BOLD) Flexibility in IDEA Act (HR 2965). The bill would do the following:
    • Allow districts to reduce MoE if they can demonstrate that they are increasing the efficiency of their special education programs and there is no impact on the provision of special education services to students
    • Allow Districts to reduce MoE if they can demonstrate 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. 
    • Allow districts to apply to the State for a waiver to reduce MoE if they are facing a serious financial crisis. Waivers will only be granted to districts if they provide evidence they are providing a free appropriate public education to all eligible students.
    • Ask your House members to co-sponsor the BOLD Flexibility in IDEA Act (HR 2965). Ask your Senators to introduce companion legislation. 
  • Appropriations/Sequester:
    • Congress must work to resolve/replace the sequester. If they cannot do that, they must ensure continued parity between defense and non-defense discretionary funding. That is, defense discretionary should not be exempt at the direct expense of non-defense discretionary funding, which includes education.
    • If Congress cannot/will not replace sequester, they need to at least negotiate a budget/appropriations compromise (much like the Murray/Ryan budget deal) that raises the current funding caps to ensure that our programs don’t continue to struggle at sequester level caps. 
    • OPPOSE House and Senate LHHS proposals and work with colleagues to negotiate a budget deal that raises the overall funding caps.

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