Guest Blog: Exec Dir Daniel Domenech on Fading ESEA Prospects

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Today's guest blog post comes from AASA Executive Director Daniel Domenech. Originally composed for his monthly Advocate article, it is being shared here for its relevance. 

It is not going to happen. ESEA will not be reauthorized any time soon. I have been a skeptic throughout the entire process. ESEA could have been easily reauthorized during the first two years of the Obama administration when the Democrats held a majority in both houses of Congress but that clearly was not a priority. After the 2011 midterm election, the Democrats lost the House and chances for reauthorization diminished. After the 2015 midterm elections, when the Republicans gained control of both legislative chambers, the possibility emerged that the Republicans had the votes to pass bills in both Houses but the threat of a Presidential veto loomed large.

Truth be told, there really are no significant policy issues between the two parties when it comes to education. The reality is that the House and Senate, whether Democrat or Republican, agree on far more than not, and that the grid lock is more aligned with adults and politics than with students and schools. At one time there was a clear delineation between Democrats and Republicans on issues like school choice, vouchers, teacher tenure and seniority, and education reform. Today those lines are blurred and the differences have become political rather than pedagogical. Last year the House passed a partisan ESEA reauthorization bill that AASA endorsed. There were many elements of the bill that we were not happy with but at least it was movement in the right direction. Steps would be taken to reduce federal intervention at the local level and accountability and assessment decisions would go back to the states, where they belong.

This year’s legislative session started with the hope that Senators Alexander and Murray would forge a bipartisan bill in the Senate and that the House would again deliver a bill as they had done last year. Indeed Alexander and Murray did what most observers of the Washington scene did not think would be possible and forged compromises between the two parties that signaled the potential passage of a bipartisan ESEA reauthorization bill and did so with unanimous, bipartisan support in committee. The surprise, however, has come from the House side. As Congressman Kline moved to reintroduce last year’s House bill, he was confronted with opposition from his own party. Over 40 Republicans in the House indicated that they would not vote for the bill. He quickly pulled the bill and during the Easter break, AASA and many of our members and state executives were making phone calls in an attempt to get the recalcitrant Republicans to change their minds.

The House was anticipated to pass the exact same bill it passed last Congress, a seemingly easy feat given that this is the chamber that has passed more than a dozen attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The Senate is the chamber where things were expected to perhaps fall apart – they were the ones doing the hard work of not only comprehensive reauthorization, but doing so in a bipartisan effort. To be where we are now, with the House struggling with the easy route and the Senate completing the infinitely harder task with flying colors, is a ‘Dunce and Golden Child’ scenario.

It takes two to tango and without House and Senate bills we will not have a reauthorized ESEA. With next year being a Presidential election year, we will have to wait until after the elections for our next opportunity. I would love to be proven wrong but in the meantime, waivers anyone?

Safe, Healthy and Ready to Learn Report Released

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AASA is proud to partner with Futures Without Violence to release a new report, “Safe, Healthy and Ready to Learn.” This report focuses on policy solutions to help children exposed to violence as well as their families and communities. The recommendations in the report include early investment in parents and young children, ensuring schools promote positive school climates, increased alignment and coordination of service agencies, and increased public awareness.

Read the full report or executive summary here.

 

AASA Endorses Bill to Repeal Excise (Cadillac) Tax Under Affordable Care Act

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AASA is pleased to support Rep. Joe Courtney's (D-CT) Middle Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal Act, designed to repeal the excise (or 'Cadillac') tax under the Affordable Care Act. Though the tax doesn't go in effect until 2018, employers--including superintendents--find themselves considering a range of options to avoid the unintended consequences of the excise tax. School districts operate with finite, balanced budgets and failing to repeal the excise tax forces schools to choose between maintaining benefits and paying the excise tax or making changes to available health care plans. Read the full letter.

AASA does not take a position on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in its entirety, though we continue to monitor three specific components that directly impact school districts: 
  • 30 v 40 Hours as Full Time: ACA requires employers to provide benefits to employees working more than 30 hours. School superintendents recognize the important role that compensation and benefits play in ensuring districts' abilities to recruit and retain a high quality staff. That said, the current 30-hour threshold poses a burden and obstacle to school administrators who must balance their district staffing needs within their operating budget. The forced 30 hour threshold undermines long-standing local hiring decisions. School administrators have long negotiated salary and benefit conversations at the local level, and the ACA regulation represents a seemingly arbitrary cap with very real consequences. AASA endorses the Save American Workers Act, which would push the threshold to 40 hours per week, aligned with the long-standing construct of '40 hour work week'. Read the related blog post.
  • Excise Tax: Set to go in effect in 2018, the excise tax will apply to employer-based health insurance that exceeds certain amounts. While envisioned to apply only high-end and overly generous health plans, the tax is far more likely to be based on factors other than benefit richness including age, gender and geography, among others.
  • Employee Contribution Threshold (9.5%): ACA, as it relates to employer-provided insurance, looks to address both access AND affordability. In an effort to reign in affordability, employers can be penalized if the plans they offer include employee contributions that exceed 9.5% of their wages. 

 

Superintendent of the 2015 National Teacher of the Year Shares a Few Insights

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By Francesca Duffy
 
At last night's National Teacher of the Year recognition dinner in Washington, D.C., AASA member Rod Schroder (Amarillo, Texas) gave a few words of advice to the state teacher-winners: "You all  have a say in education policy at a high level. I hope you take advantage of the platform you have been given." Schroder is the superintendent of Shanna Peeples, the 2015 national teacher of the year who was honored at a White House ceremony yesterday afternoon.

Schroder also spoke about how he recently visited with Peeples' students to ask what it was that made their teacher special. Here are a few of their comments that he shared:

*She uses puppets and funny voices from characters in books. (Schroder made sure to explain that Peeples teaches high school students!)

*She dances in class!

*She wants us to learn for ourselves, not for a test.

Her students see authenticity in her, and she understands their stuggles, added Schroder. "But she will also tell you that she is just a representative of all the teacher warriors in her district and state," he said.

When it was Peeples' turn to speak, she told her fellow colleagues to continue to tell the stories of the students in their classrooms. "Our critics love cliches and manipulated data. But stories are different. We advocate for our kids and professions when we tell our stories."

People are notoriously difficult to standardize, she said, but stories stay after data fades.

For more background on Peeples, check out this article from Education Week Teacher.

Rod Schroder     Shanna Peeples
 Superintendent Rod Schroder, Amarillo, Texas               2015 National Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples, Amarillo, Texas
  

USED Office of Civil Rights Releases Title IX Guidance Package

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Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released a guidance package emphasizing the responsibility of school districts, colleges and universities to designate a Title IX coordinator. The package also contains an overview of the law’s requirements in several key areas, including athletics, single-sex education, sex-based harassment, and discipline. 

The suite of guidance includes three resources:

  •  Dear Colleague Letter to school districts, colleges, and universities reminding them of their obligation to designate a Title IX coordinator.
  • letter to Title IX coordinators that provides them more information about their important role. 
  • Title IX resource guide that includes an overview of Title IX’s requirements in several key areas, including recruitment, admissions and counseling; financial assistance; athletics; sex-based harassment; treatment of pregnant and parenting students; and discipline – all topics that frequently confront schools and their Title IX coordinators 

We Need Your Stories: How Are the Changes to the E-Rate Program Benefitting Your Schools?

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The application for FY15 E-rate applications recently closed. The FCC is now looking to collect stories/anecdotes on how the changes to the E-rate program are benefitting schools.
 
Please take a few moments to write back with a sentence, anecdote or narrative about what your district is able to do/plan on/apply for given the structural and funding changes in the E-rate program. Have you historically not had access to funding for internal connections, but the new changes mean you now do? How will your district harness/leverage the expanded connectivity?

Please send stories and anecdotes to Noelle Ellerson at nellerson@aasa.org.

Survey on Technologies in the Classroom

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AASA is pleased to partner with a major technology vendor to the education industry in support of their survey about technologies in the classroom. Your voice is critical to the conversation about education technology. The survey should take about 6-7 minutes to complete. All of your feedback is anonymous--no respondent or company will be identifiable by individual answers.

A limited number of people are being asked to participate, so your feedback is critical to the success of this study. This is strictly a market research survey and will be used to understand the growing use of tools and software in classrooms, and how effective they are.        

Simply click on THIS LINK to begin the survey.        

Please complete the survey before Sunday, April 26, 2015. Thank you very much for taking the time to share your opinions with us.