AASA Urges Congress to End D.C. Voucher Program

 Permanent link

Many Americans are unaware that every year a very small portion of their tax dollars are directed towards a school voucher program operated in the District of Columbia. This program, known as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, has been in existence since 2004 and almost 200 million dollars have been directed to D.C. students, so they can attend private, predominantly parochial, schools with taxpayer funds. Given its unique relationship to Congress, the D.C. voucher program is the most studied voucher program in the nation, yet all four of the congressionally mandated USED studies that have analyzed the D.C. voucher program have concluded that it did not significantly improve reading or math achievement. The studies also indicate that many of the students in the voucher program are less likely to have access to key services such as ESL programs, learning supports, special education supports and services, and counselors than students who are not part of the program. Moreover, the D.C. program administrators have struggled to provide accurate information to parents about the quality of the participating private schools, certify the schools met basic safe and health standards, and ensure the program operated with basic accountability measures and quality controls. It fails to offer D.C. students better educational resources, greater opportunities for academic achievement, or adequate accountability to taxpayers.

In July, the Senate committee which oversees the reauthorization of the D.C. voucher program, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, held a field hearing in Wisconsin praising the Milwaukee voucher program and the D.C. voucher program. AASA is deeply concerned that the Committee will attempt to expand the D.C. voucher program during this reauthorization and we sent this letter to the Committee today to express our firm opposition to the continuation of this failing program. 

How Will President Obama’s New Overtime Regulations Affect Your District?

 Permanent link

AASA Advocacy is pleased to share this joint blog post, penned in coordination with our friends at ASBO International

Last month, President Obama announced his proposal to raise the overtime salary threshold under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which would extend overtime protections to nearly 5 million Americans next year. In his executive order, President Obama instructed the Department of Labor (DOL) to make specific changes to the FLSA, including raising its current salary threshold for overtime pay from $23,600, which is below the poverty level for a family of four, to $50,400. In other words, workers who earn less than this new threshold must be paid time and a half for each hour they work beyond the typical 40-hour work week.

As a quick refresher, the FLSA determines how employees are compensated and the standards for minimum wage and overtime pay (unless an employee meets one of the available exemptions). The FLSA was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt on June 25, 1938 to “end starvation wages and intolerable hours,” and set a national minimum wage in the U.S. for the first time. It also established a 44-hour work week (which was later decreased to 40 hours), but anything beyond that required employers to pay their employees time and a half. However, DOL Secretary Tom Perez notes that the overtime regulations “haven’t been meaningfully updated in decades,” and the salary threshold has been eroded by inflation over the years. No statistic highlights the underlying problem as well as this: in 1975, more than 60% of full-time salaried workers were eligible for overtime pay; today, only 8% qualify under the current threshold.

“We've got to keep making sure hard work is rewarded. Right now, too many Americans are working long days for less pay than they deserve,” President Obama said in a Huffington Post op-ed. “That's partly because we've failed to update overtime regulations for years—and an exemption meant for highly paid, white collar employees now leaves out workers making as little as $23,660 a year—no matter how many hours they work.”

With the President’s proposal, the salary threshold would be adjusted so that managers and executives can qualify for overtime pay. While these employees have been exempted in the past, this effort partially aims to counter employers who deliberately use the title “manager” for employees in low-wage occupations to avoid paying for overtime. At this point, the proposal is expected to impact nearly 5 million workers, but you can see how many workers would be affected state-by-state here. It should be noted however, that employees who make more than $122,000 a year will continue to remain exempt from overtime pay.

So what does this mean for schools?

Generally speaking, teachers, principals, and superintendents will not be affected by this change, thanks to the FLSA’s “learned professional” exemption. The “learned professional” exemption applies to employees who are compensated with a salary of $455/week or more, whose performance of work requires advanced knowledge that is primarily intellectual in character, and whose knowledge is in a field of science or learning and is acquired via “a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.” Teachers are exempt from overtime pay regulations if their primary duty is “teaching, tutoring, instructing, or lecturing in the activity of imparting knowledge, and if they are employed and engaged in this activity as a teacher in an educational establishment.” This includes regular academic teachers, Pre-K and K–12 teachers, gifted and special education teachers, music teachers, and others. 

School administrators are also exempt in most cases, thanks to the “administrative” exemption under FLSA. To qualify, the employee must earn a salary of $455/week or more, and his or her primary duties must involve office or non-manual work that is “directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer,” and must require them to exercise discretion and judgment on significant matters. Primary duties involve working in areas like finance, accounting, budgeting, auditing, purchasing, quality control, personnel management, and related fields—all of which relate to the duties of the school business official in particular. For more information, please refer to this FAQ (see questions 16–22) about exemptions for administrators, district leaders, and other non-curriculum school staff. 

Learn more about the FLSA and President Obama’s new overtime proposal with these related resources:


AASA Commends Leaders as ESEA Reauthorization Negotiations Begin

 Permanent link

Today, AASA released the following press release as Senators Alexander and Murray and Representatives Kline and Scott meet to begin negotiations on a final ESEA reauthorization bill. 

Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, issued the following statement today commending U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and U.S. Reps. John Kline (R-Minn.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) for their continued leadership and commitment to our nation’s schools and students as they meet today for the first time to begin the deliberate and critical discussions necessary to move the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization one step closer to completion. AASA represents more than 13,000 school system leaders across the country and has listed ESEA reauthorization as a top legislative priority since the day the most recent iteration (No Child Left Behind) was passed into law.  

“As the only national organization to have opposed NCLB from its onset, we are keenly aware and appreciative of this group’s concerted efforts for comprehensive reauthorization. This group of leaders is the one responsible for moving ESEA reauthorization to its furthest point in 15 years. They know, as well as anyone, the importance of balancing personal and party policy priorities with the needs and priorities of the broader group and that compromise is central to the ultimate goal of complete reauthorization. 

“As a former superintendent having worked in schools under NCLB, and today, as the leader of the national organization representing our nation’s public school superintendents, the schools they lead and the students they serve, I am confident that our nation’s students will be in a better position under this legislative work product than their peers who went before them under NCLB. Schools open their doors to students regardless of the quality of federal policy and I am looking forward to an ESEA reauthorization that bolsters and strengthens educators’ unwavering commitment to teaching, learning and achievement.

“Earlier this month, AASA joined nine other national education organizations to urge Congress to work quickly to complete the ESEA conference process. As the letter states, there is still more work to be done. We strongly urge you to build on the momentum generated this month around ESEA reauthorization by proceeding to conference as soon as possible. Today’s meeting is a big step in the right direction. We at AASA stand ready to support this process.”

For specific questions about ESEA reauthorization, please contact Noelle Ellerson, AASA associate executive director, policy and advocacy, at nellerson@aasa.org.

AASA Sends Letter of Support for the School Lunch Price Protection Act

 Permanent link
Today, AASA sent a letter of support regarding the School Lunch Price Protection Act (S 1805). This act, introduced by Senators Inhofe and King, would prevent financially solvent school nutrition programs from being forced to raise meal prices, under the Paid Lunch Equity rule of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. AASA applauds the Senators for their commitment to increasing district control.

Sign On Letter: Help Stop Sequestration!

 Permanent link

You will recall that AASA has been very active in its efforts to urge Congress to avoid, repeal and replace sequester. We have advocated against it since before it was law and remain involved in ongoing efforts to spur Congress to repeal/replace the very failed policy they themselves wrote into law.

As such, we have once again signed on to the NDD (Non Defense Discretionary) Coalition letter, which is open to national, state and local associations and agencies (but NOT individual people). AASA has signed on to this letter, in conjunction with our friends at AESA, NREA, and NREAC. 

We encourage you (within your school district and state associations) to consider signing on to this letter, urging replacement/repeal of sequester and the damaging/very limiting budget caps put in place by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA). The current budget framework under which the House and Senate are writing their appropriations bills abides by the sequestered BCA caps. The inadequacy of these levels has been proven time and time again through appropriations bills that fail to make the necessary nondefense discretionary (NDD) investments that protect all Americans and promote a strong economy.  If these cuts are to be avoided, Congress must work with the President to replace sequestration with a balanced approach to deficit reduction. Such sequestration relief should maintain the parity principle set in the “Ryan-Murray” Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) and reverse sequestration for both defense and nondefense.

  • If these cuts are to be avoided, Congress must work with the President to replace sequestration with a balanced approach to deficit reduction. Such sequestration relief should maintain the parity principle set in the “Ryan-Murray” Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) and reverse sequestration for both defense and nondefense. . Details below:
  • Link to letter: http://www.publichealthfunding.org/uploads/NDDSignOnFall2015_Final.pdf 
  • Link to sign-on form: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1CKU-w_ZTXpCUH64grdIEO1utOuEYVfyXwX9_ZB6gNHQ/viewform?usp=send_form 

Below are the text of the letter and instructions to sign on. The letter is also available online at the link above. Due to the large number of signatures, they WILL NOT be accepting any edits. Organizations must sign on to the letter “as is.”

INSTRUCTIONS TO SIGN-ON (PLEASE READ CAREFULLY)

  • This sign-on letter is for national, state, and local signatures ONLY. Individual citizens CANNOT participate and WILL NOT be listed.
  • When adding your organization’s name, please write it EXACTLY HOW YOU WOULD LIKE IT TO BE LISTED ON THE LETTER. Please double check your spelling before you submit your form. Note that if your organization’s name begins with the word “The,” it will be listed with the other organizations that begin with the letter “t.”
  • Please confirm that you are in fact authorized to sign on for your organization by checking the appropriate box on the form. Only organizations with authorized individuals completing the form will be listed on the letter.
  • We have added a section of the sign on form that asks you to identify the nondefense sector with which your organization most closely identifies. While your organization may identify with more than one, please choose the one that is MOST applicable. This question is meant for administrative use and will not appear on the letter sent to Congress.
  • Due to the large number of signatures, we WILL NOT accept edits. Organizations must sign on to the letter “as is.”
  • To sign on, complete the form in the link at the top of this email. The DEADLINE TO SIGN ON IS AUGUST 21! We aim to get this letter to the Hill in September. 

AASA Submits Letter Supporting Education Items in Tax Extenders

 Permanent link

Earlier this week, the Senate Committee on Finance considered a package of tax extenders. AASA follows two items in the broader package, including the educator deduction and the Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZABs). In our letter, we supported the proposals to provide two-year extensions to both both programs. 

I am pleased to report that the Senate Finance Committee approved a $95 billion tax extenders package extending 52 expired tax provisions for 2 years, including both the educator deduction and QZABs. 

The educator deduction is a $250 above-the-line deduction for teachers and other school professionals for expenses paid or incurred for books, supplies, and materials. QZABs provide tax credits to assist the financing of school renovation, repair and modernization projects.  


AASA Joins 9 National Organizations Urging Congress to Complete ESEA

 Permanent link

Earlier today, AASA joined forces with nine other national education organizations to urge Congress to work quickly to complete the ESEA conference process, bringing ESEA reauthorization to a close and providing the nation's schools and the students they serve an updated, current ESEA.

You'll recall that these same ten groups--American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, The School Superintendents Association, National Association of Secondary School Principals, Council of Chief State School Officers, Association of School Business Officials International, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National School Boards Association, National Parent Teacher Association and National Association of State Boards of Education--joined forces last month in a press conference urging Congress (both the House and Senate) to #PutKidsFirst and move their respective bills for a final vote. Both chambers did so within the last two weeks, and today's letter is a similar type of pressure and message for the next step: conference. In 'conference', the House and Senate conferees have to work together to reconcile differences between the two bills.

The unified message is simple and clear: "...Educators and parents cannot wait for a reauthorized ESEA. This bill is long overdue, and we do not have a moment to waste. We are now closer than we have been in the last 8 years to producing a new law as both Houses of Congress have passed ESEA reauthorization proposals. However, as you are well aware, there is still more work to be done before we reach our goal. To this end, we strongly urge you to build on the momentum generated this month around ESEA reauthorization by proceeding to conference as soon as possible."

You can read the full letter here.