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Executive Perspective                                     Page 43

 

Where We Stand Legislatively

 

BY DANIEL A. DOMENECH

 Daniel Domenech

Every January, AASA’s Executive Committee establishes the year’s legislative agenda. The AASA Governing Board reviews the agenda, makes modifications and votes to approve it. That agenda then becomes the action blueprint for AASA’s advocacy team, led by Noelle Ellerson.

The agenda is guided by principles for federal education policy that provide the framework for our advocacy work. Acknowledging that the U.S. Constitution did not provide a role for the federal government in education, the first guiding principle takes us back to the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, when the federal government sought to protect the civil rights of all students, regardless of race or income level, by ensuring they have access to equal educational opportunities, to supplement and support, rather than dictate, local efforts in education, and to deliver limited federal resources to all communities while targeting those with the greatest need.

AASA opposed No Child Left Behind because of the massive expansion of federal overreach and overreliance on standardized testing. Since then, AASA consistently has opposed any increased level of federal intrusion into local school district affairs. New competitive programs, such as Race to the Top, have increased federal dictates while undermining formula-funded programs focused on ensuring equitable educational support by diverting funds to competitive grants that help a few, but not all, students in need.

Promising Signs
Consequently, AASA’s legislative agenda proposes the immediate reauthorization of ESEA and the return to the allocation of funds fully via formulas based on the percentage of poverty and the reduction, if not outright elimination, of competitive grants.

AASA also opposes the continued use and renewal of waivers in place of comprehensive reauthorization.

Just as competitive grants bring financial relief only to a segment of the affected population, waivers bring relief from NCLB only to a segment of the student population. If relief from NCLB is seen as appropriate by the administration, then it should be provided to all students and all districts, not used as a carrot to continue to advance federal intrusion in local affairs.

Events in Washington indicate Congress agrees with AASA’s position. The adopted budget curtailed competitive funding and prioritized Title I and IDEA formula-funding levels in restoring sequester cuts.

AASA also continues to advocate for the full funding of IDEA at 40 percent of the national average per-pupil expenditure. That would release significant amounts of local dollars that now go to fill in for the missing federal funds. The maintenance of effort dictated by IDEA has forced all school districts to continue to fund their special needs programs at the same level as prerecession and presequestration days even though they have had to make substantial reductions to the mainstream programs. Sequestration mandated a 5 percent reduction in IDEA funds that districts had to make up with local dollars in order to meet the maintenance of effort requirement. Fortunately, the newly adopted FY ’14 budget restores about 80 percent of the sequestration dollars, but obviously not all.

We were pleased to see Congress also has sided with AASA in making changes to the four school improvement grant models that the Department of Education has required. Districts now can submit their own turnaround plan to the department for approval, or they can adopt a whole-school transformation model. This provides greater flexibility from the four prescriptive models in the original School Improvement Grants construct.

AASA supports early childhood education. We recognize its importance in closing the poverty achievement gap and see it as one of the best returns on the education dollar. Congress again came through and the big winner in the FY ’14 budget is clearly early childhood education. Head Start will receive about a billion additional dollars. The coordination of services between preschool program providers and school districts continues to be an issue that will need resolution in order to ensure these programs articulate well with the district curriculum prior to entry into kindergarten.

A Grassroots Tact
The AASA legislative agenda is comprehensive and includes our opposition to vouchers and the federal funding of nonpublic schools. We support the lifting of the funding cap on E-Rate and propose that one test should not be used for both accountability and instructional purposes.

The strength of AASA’s advocacy lies in our commitment to advancing policy positions and priorities that reflect those of our membership. Our most powerful weapon is the grassroots effort. Our advocacy efforts are most effective when you support our legislative agenda with your representatives in Congress.

Daniel Domenech is AASA executive director. E-mail: ddomenech@aasa.org. Twitter: @AASADan

 

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