AASA Supports House Bill to Reauthorize Child Nutrition Act

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Today, AASA sent the following statement to support the House bill to reauthorize the child nutrition act.

AASA, The School Superintendents Association, is pleased to support the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 (H.R. 5003). Providing healthy meals and snack options for school children is critical. AASAs’ members are proud of their strong nutrition programs and are looking for a reauthorization that provides districts with increased flexibility from certain elements of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. The nutrition study, as prescribed in this bill, takes the politics out of the standards and keeps the focus where it belongs: on what is best for our nation’s schools and students.

David R. Schuler, AASA president and superintendent of High School District 214 in Arlington Heights, Ill, and Daniel A. Domenech, AASA executive director, issued the following statements:  

“I strive to serve my students nutritious meals, but the current nutrition standards, as written, are so burdensome that I had to withdraw from the federal nutrition program and find other ways to feed my students. The flexibilities allowed and the changes that may come through this bill will provide some much-needed relief to districts around the country struggling to balance the needs of their students and the regulations from DC.” – David R. Schuler

AASA has deep concerns over the changes to the Community Eligibility Provision eligibility threshold and the increase in verification of free and reduced price lunch eligibility.

“This bill is a step in the right direction and we look forward to working with the committee to make further improvements to the legislation. We are pleased to see the continued investment in school meals and focus on supporting schools and districts over politics, and hope to work with the committee to pass a bill we can continue to support.” – Daniel A. Domenech 

More than 250 National Organizations Sign Letter Opposing Balanced Budget Amendment

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AASA joined more than 265 other national organizations in a letter to Congress opposing any balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. AASA has blogged about this effort previously, and you can refresh your memory here.

AASA remains opposed to efforts related to a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution for the damaging impacts on the economy and implications for future economic stability. As written in the letter:

A balanced budget constitutional amendment would damage the economy, not strengthen it. Demanding that policymakers cut spending and/or raise taxes even when the economy slows is the opposite of what is needed to stabilize a weak economy and avert recessions. Such steps would risk tipping a faltering economy into recession or worsening an ongoing downturn, costing large numbers of jobs while blocking worthy investments to stimulate jobs and growth and address urgent needs in infrastructure and other areas...Our Constitution has served the nation well in part because it has focused on enduring principles of government, rather than attempting to dictate fiscal policy for current and future generations. Policymakers should be providing leadership on fiscal policy, rather than avoiding doing so and seeking to cover themselves by writing a highly ill-advised, economically damaging balanced budget amendment into the Constitution.

Read the full letter.

AASA Joins National Organizations in Response to Proposed Changes to Community Eligibility Provision

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On Tuesday, April 19 AASA joined the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the School Nutrition Association (SNA), the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) for a Congressional briefing on the Community Eligibility Provision. This program is a powerful federal option that enables high-poverty schools and districts to provide breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge.

Enacted in the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and available nationwide since school year 2014–15, Community Eligibility has been adopted in more than 18,000 high-poverty schools in nearly 3,000 school districts, reaching more than 8.5 million students, according to a new report from FRAC and CBPP.  As it considers reauthorizing the child nutrition bill, the U.S. House of Representatives has proposed to change the rules for eligibility for CEP. Currently, schools and districts with more than 40 percent of students identified for free and reduced price lunch eligibility through direct certification (such as through SNAP or TANF) are eligible. The House proposal is to change that threshold to 60 percent, which would cause 7,000 schools around the country to lose eligibility.

The briefing kicked off with a welcome from AAP President Benard Dreyer and Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA), House Education and the Workforce Committee. Both expressed the extreme need for CEP, and how we can move it forward, instead of going backwards on school meals for students.

“CEP is helping schools, it’s helping teachers and, above all, it’s helping address child poverty and reduce the stigma associated with being a child who is food insecure,” said Dreyer.

Congressman Scott, a CEP champion and a leader for access to quality early-, secondary- and higher-education for all of America’s children, said “If you have [CEP], you don’t have the stigma of people having to qualify for free and reduced lunch and produce paperwork at the checkout counter that identifies them as low or moderate income and it just makes it much better.”

“We have a report that goes into detail about the good of the Community Eligibility Provision and why it needs to be maintained – and maybe even improved – but certainly not go backwards because education is at risk and the wellbeing of millions of children,” said Scott.

In addition to providing an overview of the Community Eligibility Provision, a panel of education leaders was also there to share their experiences with the program, and what it would mean for the enrolled schools if the program was taken away. The group included Vonda Cooke, director of child nutrition programs, Pennsylvania Department of Education; Lisa Kyer, business administrator, Lansingburgh Central School District (N.Y.); and Morris Leis, superintendent, Coffee County School System (Ga.).

AASA member Superintendent Morris Leis implemented the program in his district in 2014 and has provided students in 11 of his 12 schools with free breakfast and lunch since. If the proposed eligibility changes are made, six of his schools will no longer be able to remain in the program.

“The CEP is changing lives in a positive way in our community,” said Leis. “The things that are happening because of this program are amazing.”

The community in Coffee County is made up of 43,000 people, which includes 7,700 students that are being educated in the district’s 12 schools. 75 percent of those students are considered economically disadvantaged.

“We’re finishing our second year of CEP and if these changes go through, six of our schools will no longer be eligible,” said Leis. “We’ve got a lot of [students] who fall above the threshold for free and reduced [lunch], but if we didn’t have this program their children wouldn’t eat.”

According to Leis, in the middle school, prior to this program, students simply would not eat because they didn’t want the stigma of being a student eating a free lunch.

Since implementation of CEP, Leis said that students are going to the cafeteria to eat and that the entire school atmosphere has changed tremendously.

“Kids are eating and the whole strata of ‘free,’ ‘reduced’ and ‘paid’ is gone. They’re all the same,” said Leis.

The mission of Coffee County School System is to provide an equitable and excellent education for every student – which is being done through CEP.

“We provide [students] books, we provide them with transportation, we have nice buildings for them to come to, we have good teachers to teach them - and under the old system we’d get them here and make them pay for lunch,” said Leis. “Well now with CEP, we don’t classify. We have equity in our school system.”

For more information on the Community Eligibility Provision, visit frac.org.

Message from Dan Domenech: Good News: The E-Rate Application Deadline Has Been Extended

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AASA Executive Director Daniel A. Domenech shared the following message with the entire AASA membership via email. We cross post it here for your reference.

Dear Colleague: 

I write today to relay critical information related to the FY16 E-Rate application window. 

We have heard from school superintendents across the country about difficulties their districts are having navigating and completing the revamped application for the E-Rate program. In response, AASA joined 17 other national organizations—as part of the broader EdLiNC coalition—in sending a letter to the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), requesting an extension of the E-Rate application. 

The letter reads as follows: "EdLiNC's members, E-rate beneficiaries in schools and public libraries across the country, have shared they are having difficulties specifically with navigating and successfully completing the revamped application portal. Thus, we ask that the application deadline be extended. With the E-rate application deadline of April 29, 2016 fast approaching, additional time to complete the application process would greatly benefit potential beneficiaries." Read the full text of the letter. 

On Friday, USAC announced that it was, indeed, extending the application deadline. You can read the full statement here, and here are some highlights: 

 

  • USAC is extending the window for all applicants by four weeks, and the new closing date is May 26, 2016. 
  • USAC continues to roll out additional updates to the online portal and application. You can read an explanation of the additional changes here
  • When the extended window closes on May 26, USAC will open a second filing window for consortia and libraries, closing on July 21, 2016. 
  • Neither the extension nor the second window are expected to delay application review or funding decisions. 
  • USAC analysis shows there should be sufficient funding for all plausible demand scenarios for this application year. Filers should not worry about losing funds as a result of the second window. 
  • Please direct any application-related inquiries to the Client Services Bureau at 1-888-203-8100. 

 

Please let us know if you have any questions. Direct any inquiries to Noelle Ellerson, AASA associate executive director, policy & advocacy at nellerson@aasa.org. 

 

Thank you. 

 

Negotiated Rulemaking: The Sausage Making Stage of ESSA Legislation

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The Advocate is a monthly column by the AASA advocacy team. It is shared with our state affiliate executive directors who share it with membership. We cross post the articles to the blog given their relevance to AASA advocacy. This month's article is about negotiated rulemaking.
Four months ago, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). While the bill is more than 1,000 pages in length, it lacks the level of detail necessary to fully support successful implementation at the local level, and that is where the regulatory process comes in. 
Negotiated rulemaking—the specific version of regulation playing out right now—is the in-person version of regulation. A committee of approximately 25 stakeholders representing the education, civil rights, disabilities and other related communities convene to review specified topics in the hopes of reaching consensus on what shape the regulations should take. In this round, negotiated rulemaking (“neg reg”) is focused on assessments and supplement/supplant, with the broader assessments bucket capturing computer adaptive assessment, assessment for English learners, alternate assessment, exception for advanced mathematics assessments in 8th grade and the high school assessment flexibility pilot.
AASA joined eight other national organizations in a letter to Secretary King encouraging the U.S. Department of Education to ensure that the final product be consistent with the scope and spirit of ESSA and represent, to the extent possible, broad support from the neg reg committee. In particular, the groups encourage USED to refrain from defining terms and aspects of the new law that Congress designed to empower communities. 
Mr. Alvin Wilbanks, superintendent of Gwinnett County Schools in Georgia and an AASA member, is a member of the committee, appointed to represent the voice of school board and district leaders. AASA’s advocacy team has covered the first six days of neg reg (Mar 21-23 and Apr 6-8), and the group will convene one final time, April 18-19. As much as I would like to be wrong, it seems unlikely that the group will be able to reach consensus. What are some of the sticking points?
  • Alternate Assessment: You’ll recall that AASA advocated very intensely to ensure students can take tests that are developmentally appropriate. The set of items under consideration would limit the flexibility at both the state and local level, should the rate of identification for alternate assessments exceed 1 percent. Further, there is a push for a national definition of ‘students with the most severe cognitive disabilities.’ AASA opposes the attempt to change the carefully negotiated statute and believes that the intent is clear, for state and local education agencies to have some flexibility in how they place students for alternate assessments. Further, to the extent that ESSA did not create a definition, it is not something that should be created through regulation. 
  • Supplement, Not Supplant (SNS): This is one of three fiscal tests that districts and states have to meet to ensure the integrity of Title I dollars. The three tests are maintenance of effort, supplement/supplant and comparability. ESSA made changes to SNS, but not the other two tests. AASA is concerned that the proposed regulations blur the lines between the two distinct tests of SNS and comparability. AASA believes that the new reporting requirements around teacher salary need time to play out before unnecessarily tying them into an SNS proposal that has ‘mission creep’ into the equity function of comparability.
  • Computer Adaptive Assessment: Under the proposal, computer-adaptive tests used for accountability would have to be able to determine whether a student is on grade level.
  • Eighth Grade Assessments: Under the proposal, students who take a higher-level math test for accountability purposes (i.e. an Algebra test, usually given to high schoolers) must be given access to accommodations if they are English language learners, or students in special education.
  • Local High School Assessment: The debate is circling on how to define ‘nationally recognized.’
  • English Learner Assessment: The proposed regulations say states need to come up with a common test to measure English-language proficiency.
For purposes of moving forward, the committee will have two considerations: SNS will be considered on its own, and the assessment pieces will be considered in one joint bucket, with all five items to be voted on collectively, an ‘up’ or ‘down’ vote. 
Stay tuned to the AASA Leading Edge blog as the rest of the neg reg process plays out. And, as a point of reference, we are regularly asked some of our go-to resources for education policy news. They’re listed here:

Guest Blog Post: Unlocking the Key to School Improvement Success under ESSA

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Today's guest post comes from Chelsea Straus, Policy Analyst for the K-12 Education Policy team at the Center for American Progress.

During the recent signing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), President Barack Obama remarked that the new education law “focuses on a national goal of ensuring that all of our students graduate prepared for college and future careers.” To help meet this goal, ESSA requires that states and districts take action in their lowest-performing schools to dramatically improve student outcomes.

While No Child Left Behind (NCLB) prescribed specific actions for every struggling school, ESSA gives district leaders significant flexibility in selecting school improvement strategies. However, the law does require that district leaders implement “evidence-based” practices in these schools. 

Unfortunately, there are a limited number of school improvement strategies supported by substantial evidence. The key question is: Now that districts are in the driver’s seat, where should they look for help when crafting school improvement plans and selecting effective intervention strategies? The answer is fairly simple: follow the lead of districts that have successfully turned around low-performing schools. 

A new report from the Center for American Progress investigates how three districts – Houston, Texas; Denver, Colorado; and Lawrence, Massachusetts – improved their schools using a specific set of evidence-based practices. These practices include data-driven instruction, excellence in teaching and leadership, a culture of high expectations, frequent and intensive tutoring, and an extended school day and year.

All three of these districts were able to improve student achievement in many underperforming schools. Through strategic preparation and perseverance, these districts overcame barriers associated with allotting sufficient planning time, recruiting and training exemplary teachers, financing the reforms, and securing stakeholder investment. These districts were able to achieve success through increased planning time, school-level budgeting, aggressive recruiting tactics, and word-of-mouth around the effectiveness of these practices. 

As other districts contemplate how to improve low-performing schools under ESSA, they should use CAP’s report as a guide to help ensure a smooth and effective school improvement process. 

ESSA gives districts a new opportunity to take on the challenges of turning around their lowest-performing schools, without the restrictive mandates of NCLB. Although this flexibility can be overwhelming, district leaders can and should follow in the footsteps of their peers in places like Houston, Denver, and Lawrence. These three districts help shed light on the types of practices that have evidence of effectiveness and they have created a path forward for other districts. 

Now districts should seize ESSA implementation as an opportunity to infuse these practices into their low-performing schools. Improving underperforming schools with evidence-based practices will help move us closer to ensuring that all students graduate college- and career-ready. 

 

 

AASA Joins 17 Organizations in Request for E-Rate Application Extension

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AASA joined 17 other national organizations in a joint letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting an extension to the E-Rate application filing deadline.

"EdLiNC has long championed the E-rate and supported the recent modernization and overhaul of the program, recognizing the positive impact on our members’ ability to provide high-speed broadband connectivity. EdLiNC recognizes such significant changes to the program require applicants to also navigate and respond to changes to both the application and the application process. EdLiNC’s members, E-rate beneficiaries in schools and public libraries across the country, have shared they are having difficulties specifically with navigating and successfully completing the revamped application portal. Thus, we ask that the application deadline be extended. With the E-rate application deadline of April 29, 2016 fast approaching, additional time to complete the application process would greatly benefit potential beneficiaries." Read the full letter.

Groups signing the letter:

  • AASA, The School Superintendents Association
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • American Library Association
  • Association of Educational Service Agencies
  • Association of School Business Officials International
  • Consortium for School Networking
  • International Society for Technology in Education
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals
  • National Association of Independent Schools
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals
  • National Catholic Educational Association
  • National Education Association
  • National PTA
  • National Rural Education Association
  • National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition
  • National School Boards Association
  • State Educational Technology Directors Association
  • United States Conference of Catholic Bishops