Group of Four GOP Senators Release ESEA Proposals

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Earlier this week, Senators Alexander, Burr, Isakson and Kirk released five legislative proposals related to ESEA. Generally, the proposals re-establish the foundation of ESEA, re-aligning the role of the federal government in education to one of supporting partner, a role consistent not only with constitutional authority, but also in closer proportion to the amount of funding the federal government provides. The legislative package is a strong step in the right direction, putting state and local education agencies in charge of the crucial decisions—especially relating to assessments, standards, and accountability—that impact the day-to-day operation and performance of the nation’s public schools.

There are five pieces of legislation and one PDF document that includes ALL of the one-pagers that go with each piece of legislation, as well a one-pager for the package as a whole.

Elementary and Secondary Education Amendments Act of 2011: This is the Title I piece. Keeping with the general concept of reducing the role of the federal government, this bill puts state and local education agencies in charge of determining what accountability and assessments look like. While there is still an annual testing schedule and states have to collect disaggregated results, the proposal overhauls the role of the federal government. States, using their own accountability and assessment metrics, will rank their local education agencies. The bottom five percent will be subject to federal intervention, while the top 95 percent are left alone. Those schools in the bottom five percent would have to adopt one of six turnaround models. While the six models include the four turn around models supported by the current administration, there are two additional models that give states and locals the flexibility they need in making school improvement/turn around work. In addition to transformation, turnaround, closure, and restart, the GOP proposal includes a state-determined strategy and a waiver strategy. In the state-determined strategy, states can create an alternative turnaround model (as approved by the Secretary) to be used by LEAs. In the waiver model, any REAP-eligible (rural) district can adopt any of the four models (NOT the state-determined model) but waive one aspect of the model.

Looking ahead, we want to make sure that any final statute or the guidance/regulations that accompany the law do not codify the 2 percent assessment cap for students with disabilities. Further, we hope that as this process moves along, the language will be clarified so that we do not see a continued reliance on one-time, snapshot testing. We urge the GOP to revise any language to reflect that multiple sources of valid and reliable information are used to measure achievement, including various types of assessments (adaptive, formative, performance, portfolio, etc…) as well as other indicators (attendance, high school graduation rates). We are concerned that failure to clarify the important role of multiple measures in identifying schools in the bottom five percent will result in false positives, where non-bottom performing LEAs find themselves in the bottom five percent.

Empowering Local Education Decision Making Act of 2011: Senator Burr’s bill consolidates 59 programs into two flexibile foundational block grants. While AASA welcomes the flexibility this approach provides to state and local education agencies, we point to the history of Title II, as well as the 1982 Reagan Chapter Grants, and the subsequent issues with determining the efficacy and efficiency of the programs, as well as making the case for continued investment. We hope that the shift to a block-grant approach is used as a stepping stone to make the case for more flexibility as well as continued and increased investment. As you looks at the programs that are consolidated, please note that in large part, the specific allowances/allowable uses are carried through. That is, you will be able to use the funding for the programs as you have in the past (actions will continue to be an allowable use).

The two programs Burr’s legislation creates are the:

  • Fund for the Improvement of Teaching and Learning
    • Increase the capacity of LEAs, teachers and principals to provide a complete education
    • Increase the number of teachers/principals who are effective in improving student achievement
    • Ensure that low-income students are served by effective teachers/principals
  • Safe and Healthy Students Block Grant
    • Increase capacity of LEAs to create safe, hleathy and drug-free environments
    • Carry out program designed to improve school safety and promote the wellness of a ‘whole’ child

It should be noted that under this proposal, LEAs will be aboe to move up to 100% of their funding under these two programs between the two as well as in to Title I part A.

Among the programs repealed: Reading First, Early Reading First, Even Start, Literacy Through School Libraries, Advanced Placement, Transitions to Teaching, Troops-to-Teachers, Math-Science Partnerships, National Writing Project, Civic Education, Teaching of Traditional American History, Enhancing Education Through Technology, Ready to Learn TV, Close-Up, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, State Innovative Grants, School Counselors, Smaller Learning Communities, Reading is Fundamental, Gifted/Talented, Ready to Teach, Foreign Language Assistance Program, Physical Education, Arts in Education, Parent Information Resource Centers, Women's Educational Equity Act.

Teacher and Principal Improvement Act of 2011: This is the second teacher-related piece. Unlike the Burr bill, it doesn’t do consolidating. Rather, it takes an approach more akin to that in the Title I piece, giving states and locals more control over how they recruit, retain, develop, and evaluate their educators. SEAs and LEAs have to complete a needs assessment to determine needs for teacher/principal training. States lead the development of evaluation systems. There is still a teacher incentive fund which would move competitive grants to states, districts, and partnerships with private organizations (think Teach for America or the like).

Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act of 2011: Senator Kirk’s bill is essentially a mirror image of HR 2218, the House ESEA charter proposal that was passed earlier this week. You can read AASA’s concerns with the legislation here.

State Innovation Pilot Act of 2011: This final piece clarifies the ability of the Secretary of Education to provide/deny waivers. The main jist of the bill is that the idea of waivers is to be lead by state and local requests, not Washington mandates.

AASA Response to Senate GOP ESEA Proposal


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