AASA Proposes ESEA Regulatory Relief to USED

Date: October 21, 2010

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Dear Secretary Duncan:

The American Association of School Administrators, representing more than 13,000 school administrators and local educational leaders, would like to expand a dialogue between school system leaders and USED officials relating to regulatory changes that could be made to ESEA, providing districts flexibility by cutting costs and lessening burdens.

AASA has been actively engaged in the reauthorization of ESEA, and proposes the following regulatory changes as a way to bridge the gap between the rapidly increasing burdens facing school districts and the relief through reauthorization. The responses and suggestions come from AASA members across the nation, including AASA’s Executive Committee, Governing Board, and State Association Directors. Members were asked to identify potential changes to ESEA that could be addressed through regulation. Their thoughtful responses make a strong case for USED to use the regulatory process to make specific, targeted changes to the current law and provide relief to America’s schools.

Suspend Additional ESEA Sanctions: The current ‘all or nothing’ mentality of AYP is penalty-heavy and is defeating to both students and teachers. One of the biggest areas of concern within current law is the alarming rate at which an increasing number of schools will be labeled as ‘in need of improvement’ and face sanctions for failing to meet back-loaded proficiency targets. The back-loaded proficiency growth projections mean many LEAs will be facing significant sanctions from a bill that is over-due for reauthorization. It would be more efficient and beneficial—in both the short and long term—to focus on improving the school in question. Given that these issues are expected to be addressed within reauthorization, the Department could, in the mean time, provide regulatory relief to suspend additional or new sanctions until after reauthorization.

Designate Primary Student Category: Under current law, it is possible for one student to count for/against a school district more than one time. That is, an LEA could have a child with special needs who also happens to be an English Language Learner and from a high-poverty family. If this child fails to meet proficiency, the single non-proficient score actually counts against the school district in all three categories. In an effort to improve accountability and truly reflect student performance, USED could eliminate the counting of students in multiple categories by designating a primary category, be it ELL, special needs, or income level. For example, through regulations, USED could prioritize categories and ‘catch’ a student in the net of the first category into which they fall. Under these regulations, LEAs would account for the student in the highest-priority category identified by USED.

Modify Assessment for Accountability to a Bi-Annual Process: One cost-saving change USED could provide would be to revise regulations that require testing every student in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school every year in math and English. Revising the regulations to change assessment for accountability to a random sampling on an every-other-year basis would mean huge cost savings at the state and local level while still providing the data necessary for measuring student performance and school accountability. Further, a similar model already exists: NAEP is administered to a sample population on an every-other-year basis, and the results are reliable. We understand that the statutory language is specific in this area, but we think not so restrictive that a less costly method of accountability is possible and within the spirit of the statute.

Return Unused SES Dollars to LEAs, not the Treasury: Under current law, LEAs failing to meet AYP have to set aside 20 percent of Title I dollars for supplemental education services and choice. Current regulations hold reserved, unused portions of the set-aside unavailable to the district until spending authority ends, at which point the funds are returned to the treasury. This is an easy fix: USED can modify the regulation so that the set-aside funds last until the end of the school year and then, if all SES and choice needs are met, are returned to the district’s general Title I budget line. It is a simple release of funds, at no additional cost to the federal government, and a double-bonus for districts, providing both funding flexibility and an additional shot of revenue to address other Title I-related concerns.

Allow LEAs to Use Their Teachers as SES Providers: Under current law, schools facing sanction and offering SES are not allowed to use their own teachers as SES providers. Instead, LEAs have to look outside their often highly-qualified staff and hire external providers often times at a rate higher than would be paid to the teachers. Allowing LEAs to use their own teachers as SES providers gives budget flexibility, allowing SES dollars to go further and serving as a source of school community and continuity.

Simplify Process for IDEA Compliance: Current IDEA statute requires LEAs to demonstrate compliance with IDEA. Current regulations make the compliance process cumbersome and burdensome, identifying 19 separate indicators to which LEAs must comply and document. The current regulations represent an excessive administrative burden. USED can provide regulatory relief by modifying or rescinding the current regulations and revising the approach to IDEA compliance.

The recommendations above represent an opportunity for USED to use regulations to provide relief to schools. I urge you to work with staff at the Department of Education to wholly consider implementing these changes. I look forward to working with you and to further discussion of these ideas, and welcome the opportunity to share the feedback of our members with you and the Department of Education.

Sincerely,

Daniel Domenech
Executive Director
American Association of School Administrators