Two AASA and ASBO Webinars: FRAC (April 7) and USDA (April 16)

(SCHOOL NUTRITION) Permanent link

Two AASA/ASBO Webinars: FRAC (April 7) and USDA (April 16)

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on district food service operations, AASA and the Association of School Business Officials, are holding two webinars that will help Educational leaders impacted by COVID-19 provide students with access to healthy and nutritious meals.
  • The first webinar on April 7 – Feeding Students During COVID-19 – will focus on best practices, tools, and resources school districts are currently leveraging to feed children, and feature presentations from nutritional experts from the Food Research Action Committee. You can register by clicking here.
  • The second webinar on April 16 – USDA COVID-19 School Waivers – will feature a presentation from USDA Food Nutritional Service Child Nutrition Branch Chief for School Meals, Tina Namian, which will focus on the Department’s latest round of federal school meal waivers available to districts closed because of COVID-19. You can register by clicking here.

AASA COVID-19 School Response Study

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AASA COVID-19 School Response Study

Today, April 6, 2020, AASA, published its full COVID-19 School Response Study. While the report was not experimental and didn't employ random sampling, the survey garnered a total of 1,608 responses from a sample of AASA members from 48 states, which consisted of superintendents, associate superintendents, aspiring superintendents, and other school system leaders.  
 
Specifically, the studies' data show preliminary findings from the 32-question survey instrument and categorizes responses by (1) district and respondent characteristics (i.e. state, size, geographic location, etc.), (2) school districts’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and (3) the fiscal impact of COVID-19. We hope this resource will serve as a data source that informs our members, state and federal policymakers, and others looking to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the nation’s schools and communities. Click here to read the full report. 
 

CMS Guidance for Billing Medicaid During COVID-19

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CMS Guidance for Billing Medicaid During COVID-19

We just received an official bulletin from CMS that contains some very important information for districts that are billing Medicaid during the pandemic. Specifically, the bulletin answers questions about RMTS, which I have excerpted below.

Overall, we understand that States are getting considerable flexibility from CMS with regards to the delivery and reimbursement for school-based Medicaid services. For example, States are getting permission to use RMTS data averaged over two quarters for this quarter or are being allowed to use last quarter’s RMTS data for this quarter. Some are still requiring time studies, but doing so on a much more limited basis.

Beyond waivers, several states have passed emergency rules that clarify that the provision of Medicaid reimbursable special education services can be done via any modality for reimbursement except text or email. This is also very helpful and allows districts to continue maximizing their reimbursement.

On the whole, it appears CMS is granting whatever flexibility States are asking for, so if districts in your state require additional flexibility for Medicaid reimbursement they should be talking with their SEAs and State Medicaid offices and asking for it.

 

Third Party Questions and CMS Responses

If school is in session but being conducted remotely, for the purposes of the Random Moment Time Study (RMTS) used in allocating Medicaid administrative cost, please confirm that eligible RMTS school staff may continue to respond to their sampled RMTS moment indicating their activity for their sampled date and time (even if they were working remotely).

Yes, even though the participant is working remotely, he or she may respond to the sampled RMTS moment.

For those individuals sampled for the RMTS who are not working, please confirm that the state or school district can report the time as paid or unpaid time not working.

For those individuals who are sampled, but are not working, the sample moment should be coded to paid time not working if they are salaried, or unpaid time if they are furloughed without pay or in some other unpaid status at the time of the sample moment.  The moments that are coded to paid time not working should be reallocated across the other activity codes and a portion of the costs recognized.

The current Medicaid Administrative Claiming (MAC) Plan provides guidance for a situation when 85% percent RMTS compliance isn’t reached, by allowing moments to be coded as non-Medicaid until compliance is reached.  However, the plan also requires individual districts to reach 85 percent RMTS participation or potentially incur penalties and/or non-participation in claiming. Would CMS be willing to NOT impose individual district penalties while the school districts are working remotely during the pandemic?

We recognize that RMTS overall staff participation may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.  During the timeframe of the declared Public Health Emergency, CMS would not ask states to impose any individual district penalties for districts that do not reach 85 percent RMTS participation.  States could modify the MAC Plan to temporarily suspend this requirement during the public health emergency.

Important Resources on Student Data Privacy during COVID-19

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Important Resources on Student Data Privacy during COVID-19

Our friends at the Future of Privacy Forum wanted us to flag the following resources for school leaders on student data privacy that may be helpful to be aware of right now.

 

FPF published a wiki of COVID-19 privacy resources that includes official guidance from government agencies around the world, best practices, and emerging solutions (including links with tips on employees working remotely).

The Department of Education released several excellent resources:

FERPA and Virtual Learning (1-page list of resources)

FERPA and Virtual Learning webinar slides and recording

FERPA and the Coronavirus Disease 2019

CoSN released this resource on cybersecurity in the COVID-19 era for their members.  

MS Global webinar this Friday: Considerations when Using Virtual Meetings for K-12 Remote Learning

AASA Partners with National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) for COVID Webinar

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AASA Partners with National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) for COVID Webinar

Join us and our friends at NAPT for an advocacy update on what the latest COVID emergency supplemental means for education. Many are saying the $2+ Trillion stimulus package the president signed into law last Friday is a game-changer for a national economy decimated by the novel coronavirus.  But, how does it affect education?  Join us on Wednesday (4/1/20) at 12Noon ET for a special one-hour webinar and learn what the CARES Act includes for education, how these provisions and their related appropriations will impact school systems across the country, and when you can expect to see and feel the impact at the local level. To participate, visit https://zoom.us/j/812217675 Meeting ID: 812 217 675

Report of Initial Findings: COVID Impact on Public Schools

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Report of Initial Findings: COVID Impact on Public Schools

Earlier this month, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic impacting the nation and forcing the shutdown and response of school districts nation-wide, AASA launched a nation-wide survey of superintendents to gather real time data on how schools are responding, the information and resources they are relying on and still need, and to begin to understand what the long-term policy implications for state and federal policy makers will be as they consider how to best support school districts.  As an indication of the relevancy of this report, our survey garnered more than 1,600 responses from 48 states during the week of March 13 to March 25. The initial findings are summarized here.

USDA Offers Nationwide Waiver to Allow Parents & Guardians to Pick Up Meals for Children

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USDA Offers Nationwide Waiver to Allow Parents & Guardians to Pick Up Meals for Children

Today, March 26, 2020, The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a nationwide waiver that will enable districts - in a state with an approved waiver for non-congregate meal distribution - to serve meals to a parent/guardian without a child being present. 
 
This announcement comes as a welcome relief for school system leaders, as many districts have reported that current regulations are hampering efforts to feed all students. While this is a win for students, families, and public schools, AASA will continue advocating for additional flexibilities under the federal school meals programs. Check out the full details by clicking here. 

AASA Urges USDA to Issue Broad Waivers to Provide Administrative Flexibilities Under the School Meals Programs

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AASA Urges USDA to Issue Broad Waivers to Provide Administrative Flexibilities Under the School Meals Programs

Yesterday, March 25, 2020, AASA joined 51 organizations in sending a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture, requesting that the agency issue additional nationwide waivers to ensure access to meals during the COVID-19 pandemic and ease the administrative burden on school districts and state child nutrition agencies.
 
This move comes in response to USDA's failure to use newly authorized authority to waive the area eligibility requirement, reimburse all meals at the free rate, ensure parents can pick up meals without a child being present, extend the community eligibility provision deadlines, and issue-specific guidance on how school nutritional professionals can stay safe while feeding students. You can check out the letter by clicking here
 
Moving forward, AASA will continue to advocate for additional administrative flexibilities to ensure school system leaders can continue serving students nutritious meals. Stay tuned to get the latest updates on this continuously evolving issue.
 

Senate Passes $2T Stimulus Package

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Senate Passes $2T Stimulus Package

Today, on March 26, 2020, the Senate unanimously passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. AASA will have a full analysis of the CARES Act once it passes the House (vote expected Friday). In the meantime, here is a preliminary rundown of what to expect, in terms of education, from the massive deal.The $13.5 billion earmarked for K-12 schools is included in the bill's Education Stabilization Fund, which also contains $14.25 billion for higher education and $3 billion for governors to use at their discretion to assist K-12 and higher education as they deal with the fallout from the virus. The legislation also states that any state or school district getting money from the stabilization fund "shall to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay its employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to coronavirus." Beyond the SFSF funds, the CARES Act includes:

  • $15.5 billion for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program;
  • $8.8 billion for Child Nutrition Programs to help ensure students receive meals when school is not in session;
  • $3.5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants, which provide child-care subsidies to low-income families and can be used to augment state and local systems;
  • $750 million for Head Start early-education programs;
  • $100 million in Project SERV grants to help clean and disinfect schools, and provide support for mental health services and distance learning;
  • $69 million for schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Education; and
  • $5 million for health departments to provide guidance on cleaning and disinfecting schools and day-care facilities. 

Other Items to Note:

  • State Funding Shell Game: Brace yourselves. The bill, as currently drafted, includes language that would allow states to apply for a waiver for their maintenance of effort compliance. Meaning that while the federal funds would roll to the local level, they wouldn’t feel like relief because the state would be able to make cuts in state funding. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is; this shell game was widely documented in the 2009 ARRA package. The broad MOE waiver flexibility was not in the original senate bill and we are concerned and disappointed. This continues to double down on the fiscal burden schools face as states can pursue flexibility and LEAs are left on the hook to cover the shortfall.
  • Funding for Internet Access: The proposal misses the mark. It makes teleconnectivity and allowable use of the broader fund, and failed to instead direct funding directly through the already existing ERate program. We will look to ameliorate this in COVID 4 (already being debated). This is a nice gesture, but is not a win for students caught in the homework gap. The competing needs of those funds are so great that there is no way to ensure these students needs will be met. And, a new program will have to be created by Dept. of Ed and will DELAY any potential help. In addition, going this route, the guardrails are off and will be so broad (software, hardware, etc.) that the vendors, companies will be out in full force (a concern we always have and deal with re E-rate allowable use/tech eligibility). It is not lost on us that ALL the major national education organizations in the country have been calling for a dedicated fund via the E-rate for a while now because it is an existing program that can be adjusted quickly, our schools know it, we can ensure that schools are able to get students what they need (and not more than they need), and the E-rate program works.
  • Waiver Authority :DeVos’ waiver authority is reigned in from the sweeping language in the original proposal. This is in addition to the expedited waiver process DeVos announced for assessments in the last week. This package includes waiver flexibility for states to get waivers on accountability (related to publicly reporting various indicators under their accountability systems, as well as waivers from reporting on progress toward their long-term achievement goals, and interim goals under ESSA and waivers to freeze in place their schools identified for improvement. No schools would be added to the list, and no schools would be removed from the list for the 2020-21 school year, under this expedited waiver process. There is no additional language related to IDEA flexibility; that remains the huge, bruising conversation we are having with the hill. There are also a handful of waivers available at the state and local level re flexibility from sections of ESSA related to funding mandates. SEAs/LEAs can seek a waiver:
    • from ESSA's requirement for states to essentially maintain their education spending in order to tap federal funds. 
    • to make it easier to run schoolwide Title I programs regardless of the share of low-income students in districts and schools. 
    • from requirements governing Title IV Part A, which funds programs aimed at student well-being and well-rounded achievements. Caps on spending for different priority areas would be lifted, and schools would no longer be barred from spending more than 15 percent of their Title IV money on digital devices. 
    • to carry over as much Title I money as they want from this academic year to the next one; normally there's a 15 percent limit. 
    • from adhering to ESSA's definition of professional development. 

AASA also sent a letter of support for the legislation. To see what we said please click here.

AASA Signs Letter Urging a Halt to Title IX Changes

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AASA Signs Letter Urging a Halt to Title IX Changes

AASA joins more than 200 education, victims rights, and civil rights groups in a letter imploring the Trump administration to stop the proposed changes to Title IX. 

This letter, spearheaded by the National Women's Law Center, requests that the administration stop the changes to the law and any other non-emergency rules as over K-12 schools, colleges and universities have or will be closing or moving to an online learning platform due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

“Moving forward now with a new Title IX rule would only exacerbate these challenges by diverting schools’ already sharply limited resources toward creating complex new policies and training employees on implementation, at a time when schools are already working to radically shift their programs and meet student needs, even while staff operate remotely,” the groups wrote.

With the confusion of closures and shifts to online learning, many are arguing that this rule would cause to much confusion in an already tumultuous time. 

Click here to read the full letter. Click here to read the full article. (Must have access to Politico)

AASA Advocacy in Action: COVID Update

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AASA Advocacy in Action: COVID Update

The advocacy team has been working with our peers in other education associations on multiple fronts related to COVID and Congressional emergency response. Here’s a quick recap:

  • We responded with six other national organizations to a Senate proposal that included no dedicated funding for K12. That deal is still being negotiated. Read our initial and follow up letter
  • We urged the Senate to ensure their support for remote learning was channeled through E-Rate. Read our statement with EdLiNC  and our statement with the local education organizations.
  • All 49 of our state affiliates (We don’t have one in Hawaii!) signed a joint letter to Congress urging flexibility on assessment and accountability. 

7 National Organizations Urge Senate to Provide Remote Learning Support via E-Rate

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7 National Organizations Urge Senate to Provide Remote Learning Support via E-Rate

 Seven national education organizations issued a joint statement as Congress works to finalize its latest COVID emergency supplemental:

“At a time when our nation’s school leaders and educators are doing unparalleled work to bridge the learning gap while schools are closed in response to COVID, we urge Congress to ensure that any emergency funding provided to support remote and distance learning include direct funding through E-Rate program for hotspots, connection devices and mobile wireless service. As the long-standing and very effective connectivity program for schools and libraries, E-Rate is the most effective way to ensure these critical connectivity dollars reach students across the nation while utilizing and already existing infrastructure.  States and schools are familiar with how to apply for and use E-Rate funding, and as our school leaders respond to a crisis, the importance of this type of process efficiency cannot be understated. The current proposal misses this mark and instead relies on including connectivity and devices as allowable uses within a broader fund. We strongly support the Senate in passing the distance learning provisions as included in the House version of the bill.”

 

AASA, The School Superintendents Association

American Federation of Teachers

Council of Great City Schools

National Association of Elementary School Principals

National Association of Secondary School Principals

National Education Association

National School Boards Association

ED Issues Guidance on FAPE During COVID-19

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ED Issues Guidance on FAPE During COVID-19

Over the weekend, the U.S. Department of Education issued important guidance on how to comply with IDEA during COVID-19.  This guidance was in response to legitimate concerns voiced by AASA members that they have been reluctant to provide any distance instruction because they believe that it would be impossible to do so remotely for some students with disabilities. In the guidance, ED said that “schools should not opt to close or decline to provide distance instruction, at the expense of students, to address matters pertaining to services for students with disabilities. Rather, school systems must make local decisions that take into consideration the health, safety, and well-being of all their students and staff.”

They write that USED “understands” that schools may not be able to provide all services in the same manner they are typically provided…and it may be unfeasible or unsafe…to provide hands-on physical therapy, occupational therapy, or tactile sign language educational services.” That said, it’s one thing for ED to understand this but another for Courts to understand this is the case. The law is still the law, and ED’s suggestion that districts are responsible for “still meet[ing] their legal obligations by providing children with disabilities equally effective alternate access to the curriculum or services provided to other students” will be an insurmountable challenge for some districts.

While the Departments lacks the authority to waive certain timelines, like those associated with IEPs, initial eligibility determinations and due process hearings, they highlight that there is current flexibility available with regard to these timelines. For example, IEPs can be reviewed through video-conferences and the parents/districts can jointly waive to hold an IEP meeting. Similarly, reevaluations can occur without a meeting and without obtaining parental consent through reviewing existing evaluation data.

 

We recommend you see this memo from the law firm of Thompson & Horton which further analyzes the steps districts can take to comply with IDEA during this national emergency in addition to this article from esteemed special education legal expert Perry Zirkel which analyzes the past guidance from ED and offers advice to practitioners. 

AASA Partners with Future Privacy Forum on COVID FERPA FAQ

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AASA Partners with Future Privacy Forum on COVID FERPA FAQ

AASA was pleased to collaborate with our friends at Future Privacy Forum on a new white paper that offers guidance to help K-12 and higher education administrators and educators protect student privacy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s no question that schools and institutions are struggling to manage this unprecedented situation and need as much support and information as possible to do their jobs,” said Amelia Vance, FPF’s Senior Counsel and Director of Youth and Education Privacy. “The Future of Privacy Forum is tracking the situation closely in an effort to anticipate and help address the challenges that schools may encounter as they work to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, and we expect to release additional resources in the days ahead.”

“As our nation’s public school superintendents navigate through the extraordinary set of circumstance they face in light of COVID-19, AASA remains committed to gathering, creating, and disseminating as many resources as possible to answer, to the best of our ability, the myriad questions they raise,” said Noelle Ellerson Ng, AASA’s Associate Executive Director for Advocacy & Governance. “Through our work with FPF, we are happy to provide this collection of frequently asked questions in the context of student data and privacy and FERPA. Protecting student data and privacy is just one of the many factors they need to consider, and we are pleased to have the opportunity to share this resource today.”

The white paper offers insight into how the health or safety emergency exception under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) allows schools to share students’ personally identifiable information (PII) with the community and relevant officials during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

According to FPF and AASA, under the FERPA health or safety emergency exception, “if a school determines that there is an articulable and significant threat to the health or safety of a student or other individuals and that someone needs PII from education records to protect the student’s or other individuals’ health or safety, it may disclose that information to the people who need to know it without first gaining the student’s or parent’s consent.” Read more.

 

The white paper addresses a number of frequently asked questions, including:

  • If a student has COVID-19, what information from education records can the school share with the community?
  • If the school suspects that a student has COVID-19, what information can the school share with its community?
  • If a school suspects that a student may have COVID-19, can school officials contact the student’s primary care physician?
  • If a student has COVID-19 and the school’s health records are covered by HIPAA rather than FERPA, what information may the school disclose to its community?
  • What if the school receives a voluntary request from a local, state, or federal agency for student records to assist the agency in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak?
  • What should a school do if it receives a request under a mandatory reporting law to share student health records with a public health agency?
  • Do interagency agreements with other state or local agencies allow schools to disclose education records without obtaining consent?

 

To read the white paper, click here. To learn more about the Future of Privacy Forum’s student privacy work, click here.

Joint Letter to USDA Requesting Broad Waivers to Support the Provision of Meals

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Joint Letter to USDA Requesting Broad Waivers to Support the Provision of Meals

On March 19, 2020, AASA and 20 other allied organizations sent a letter to USDA urging the administration to swiftly use new authorities granted to them by the passage of "the Family First Coronavirus Repose Act" to broadly issue waivers that support the provision of federal school meals throughout the country.
 
Specifically, we urged USDA to do the following:
  • Issue nationwide waivers for the requests that USDA has already received from states to ease the administrative burden for stakeholders who have been on the frontline responding to the crisis.
  • Waive the Area Eligibility Requirement that currently acts as an administrative obstacle and requires schools to identify children who have been already certified for free or reduced-price school meals. This is particularly exacerbated for students in rural areas that do not have the same concentration of poverty as other areas.
  • Waive the requirement that children be present for parents to pick up meals.
  • Push back the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) Deadlines so that schools have time to meet the monitoring and reporting requirements associated with the program.
  • In coordination with CDC and other federal agencies issue specific guidance for school nutrition professionals, summer food sponsors, and volunteers’ safety during school closure meal service. 
AASA was proud to join this effort lead by FRAC. Moving forward, we will continue to advocate for administrative flexibilities and additional federal resources so districts can sustain school meal programs in the face of prolonged nationwide school closures.
 

Second Coronavirus Package Will Be Signed by Trump

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Second Coronavirus Package Will Be Signed by Trump

Today, the Senate passed House legislation known as the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” which contains provisions that will make it easier for students to access food and school employees to get paid sick leave. Unlike the first package which was directed at healthcare related costs, this second package of funding is aimed at providing relief to states and districts related to COVID-19. We are really paying attention to the next and third package as that will be the one that contains billions of dollars for schools to pay for costs associated with closures and containment of the virus. Thus far, Democrats have proposed roughly $600 million in funding for K12, but that number could increase. There will also be some major amendments to current federal programs as well. There are, however, several provisions in this second package that we want to flag for superintendents.

  • One provision waives a requirement that prevents USDA from granting waivers to states from the Child Nutrition Act if those waivers would increase costs to the federal government.
  • Another provision allows school districts to serve meals in a variety of settings through a new national waiver authority granted to USDA
  • Related, another provision would allow States to qualify students for SNAP benefits if their schools close for at least five days as long as these students qualified for FRPL already.

There are also two provisions that relate to school employees:

  • Public school employees would be entitled to an initial 10 days of unpaid sick leave if they are impacted by the coronavirus. This would be followed by paid leave equal to at least two-thirds of their normal pay. There are caps on the paid leave of $200 per day and $10,000 in the aggregate

In addition, if a public school employee is caring for a child at home because their school or childcare provider is closed or because they are under quarantine then they are entitled to 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave or, in the case of part-time workers they would receive paid leave equal to the average number of hours they work over a two-week period. There are also caps on these benefits of up to $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate for full-time employees and $200 per day and $2,000 in the aggregate for part-time employees. 

AASA Affiliates Send Letter to Congress

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AASA Affiliates Send Letter to Congress

Today, all forty-nine of AASA’s state affiliates sent a letter to Capitol Hill calling on Congress to ensure the U.S. Department of Education is granted the authority to issue ESSA waivers to states related to assessment and accountability in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With more than three-quarters of states issuing statewide school closures—closures that are increasingly likely to last the remainder of the school year—it is clear there will be an impact on our ability to comply with assessment and accountability requirements. It is imperative the U.S. Dept. of Education is able to address this emergent need by issuing a blanket, statewide, narrow-in-scope waiver to expedite the process by which states can pursue and receive the necessary relief related to uncertainty over how assessments and accountability will play out and how/if flexibility will be granted. 

AASA Joins National Organizations to Ensure Fair Treatment of Public Schools in COVID Supplemental Letter

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AASA Joins National Organizations to Ensure Fair Treatment of Public Schools in COVID Supplemental Letter

AASA joined seven other national education organizations in a joint letter to Congress urging them to strike language that would provide preferential treatment to private schools and employers as it relates to a tax provision within the broader COVID-19 supplemental bill. You can read the letter here.

New Resource: Meeting Students’ Nutritional Needs During a Pandemic

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New Resource: Meeting Students’ Nutritional Needs During a Pandemic

On March 18, AASA and the Food Research Action Committee released a resource that is how-to-guide for superintendents looking to provide breakfast and lunch to students as districts deal with school closures.

Specifically, the one-pager provides an overview of the federal options open to school districts, (1) The Summer Food Service Program, and (2) the Seamless Summer Option. Additionally, the guide offers resources from USDA about applying for each program, and best practices of non-congregate feeding options for districts.

To check out the resource, please click here.

IMPORTANT: TAKE AASA COVID-19 RESPONSE SURVEY

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IMPORTANT: TAKE AASA COVID-19 RESPONSE SURVEY

As AASA continues to monitor the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, today on March 13, 2020, we released a nationwide survey as part of our effort to detail and capture what this evolving crisis means to schools and communities.

The data from this survey will be used to track how school districts are responding to COVID-19, describe how ed-technology is helping or impeding districts' ability to deliver curriculum and instruction, to detail the fiscal impact of COVID-19 on nation’s our public school system, and use this information with superintendents and on Capitol Hill.

Please take a few moments to complete the survey, helping us to illustrate COVID-19’s impact on public schools. We will make the results of the survey available to all members, information you may find useful, will use the data to power and inform our work on Capitol Hill—as it relates to emergency fiscal and policy relief—and share it with our state affiliates who can use it in state policy discussions. We hope to get responses from our members in 49 states, and appreciate the time you can take to submit your response.

You can access the survey by contacting Chris Rogers at crogers@aasa.org or Noelle Ellerson Ng at  nellerson@aasa.org.

USDA Offers 25 States and DC Waivers to Serve Federal Meals while Schools are Closed

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USDA Offers 25 States and DC Waivers to Serve Federal Meals While Schools are Closed

Today, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) eased rules so that 25 states and the District of Columbia can provide meals as part of the school lunch and breakfast programs to students outside of group settings. Consequently, marking a decision by the agency that will make it easier for schools to feed low-income children even while some districts are closed.

Specifically, USDA's decision will allow states to request waivers so that schools can switch to summer feeding models and offer meals to students in various locations. For our members, this action will enable school system leaders to implement innovative programs like "grab-and-go" breakfast and lunch programs to better enable districts to comply with social distancing recommendations from public health officials. 

To see the details on what your state should do to request a waiver, click here.

CDC Offers Recommendations on School Closures

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CDC Offers Recommendations on School Closures

As schools continue to deal with the impact of COVID-19 on school system operations, this week the CDC offered recommendations on school closure procedures for districts.

To check out the CDC’s recommendations click here. 

As you comb through the document, please look to see what this research says is the impact of closing schools, for short or long periods of time, on containing the spread of COVID-19.  

 

 

School Meals Assistance Proposals to be Included in Broader House Corona Legislative Package

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School Meals Assistance Proposals to be included in Broader House Corona Legislative Package

As the House votes as early as today on another funding and policy package related to COVID-19, we wanted to flag that the package of legislation to provide relief to states and localities will contain two bills aimed at offering school districts increased flexibilities in administering the federal school meal programs

The first bill is a bipartisan proposal led by Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and James Komer (R-KY ) - dubbed the COVID–19 Child Nutrition Response Act - and would enable the Department of Ed to offer school officials waivers to distribute food in any number of settings across all nutrition programs, and allow for flexibilities around the nutritional provisions of the national school lunch and breakfast programs. The second piece of legislation led by Ilhan Omar (D-MN) - titled the Maintaining Essential Access to Lunch for Students (MEALS) Act - would wave existing requirement that prevents the Department of Agriculture from approving state waiver requests that result in increased costs to the federal government. Check out the full details here.

AASA will keep you abreast of this evolving issue and continue advocating for additional federal support to schools as they're impacted by the Coronavirus.

 

Higher Education Reauthorization

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Higher Education Reauthorization

From our discussions with congressional staff, we've once again heard rumors that Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray are working towards writing a bi-partisan comprehensive Higher Education Act. The impetus for this decision comes from (1) the simple fact that the law is 7-years overdue for an update, and (2) Alexander is chasing one last win before leaving Capitol Hill for good. 

Theoretically, the path toward reauthorizing HEA should be more straightforward than last year since Alexander was able to pass the Future Act, which reduced the FASFA form by 20 plus questions, extended pell grants to short-term programs and incarcerated individuals, and increased the transparency of the costs associated with post-secondary programs.

That said, we've heard this story before, and given (1) the fact that it’s an election year; as well as (2)  the outstanding disagreements between Senate Republicans and Democrats over Titles IV and II of HEA, it's unlikely Congress will be able to update HEA before the end of this year's legislative session. Regardless, AASA will keep you updated on any developments, and continue advocating for additional resources to address the ongoing teacher shortage issue.

NEW STOP Funding Webinar (updated March 9, 2020)

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NEW STOP Funding Webinar

On Wednesday, March 25th at 1 pm AASA is proud to partner with Sandy Hook Promise, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals to offer an important webinar on the STOP School Violence Act grant program.


After the tragedy at Parkland, Congress acted quickly to create a new funding stream to support state and local efforts to deter school violence. The passage of the STOP School Violence Act authorizes $100 million in funding for schools to improve school safety in 2019. This webinar will explain how to apply for the funding and how the dollars can further school safety efforts and mental health programs in your district.

Hear from Merv Daugherty, superintendent, Chesterfield County Schools, Va., who received a STOP grant in 2019, as he shares his experience applying for the grant and how his district will be using this funding to improve the mental health of his students. 

Hear from Terri Bennett of Sandy Hook Promise who is an expert on federal grantwriting and provides considerable technical assistance to STOP grantees. 

This webinar is free to AASA members. 


New survey opportunity for the Gates Foundation (updated March 6, 2020)

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Survey Opportunity

Background: AASA is pleased to share an opportunity for you to provide feedback to the Gates Foundation on the important issue of daily practice. It is a brief 3-5 minute survey, and the intent is to identify the top animating questions teachers, principals, and district leaders/staff  wish they could answer to improve their daily practice. This perspective is critical to the Foundation in understanding the lived experience in the classroom and at the district, particularly as they support researchers on answering the most relevant questions for practitioners.

The Survey: No one knows your school community like you do, superintendents – and our friends at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation want to learn from you! You and your fellow educators have shared that encouraging and inspiring all of your students matters so much to you. To shape their work supporting educators like you, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wants to know about the challenges that school leaders face as they work to support every student, every day. Take just a moment to share your insights in this quick survey: Click here to share your thoughts! (Or copy and paste the link below into your browser: https://rc1user6wywr4khjm3t5.sjc1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9N6vqD7NqRGB6kt?partner=AASA) This survey should only take a few minutes to complete. Thank you for your generosity with your time and expertise – and for all the care you bring to the powerful work you do, every day.

To sweeten the deal, there are $15 Amazon cards available to the first 1500 district respondents. 

Public Schools Week 2020 A Resounding Success (updated March 3, 2020)

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Public Schools Week 2020 A Resounding Success

In case you missed it, Public Schools Week was held February 24-28th and we had a great time on and off Capitol Hill celebrating the great things happening in our public schools.

Our bipartisan House Resolution received 120 cosponsors and our bipartisan Senate resolution received 45 co-sponsors. 

In addition, the following states issued resolutions during Public Schools Week modeled after the federal one: Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

I hope you joined your superintendent colleagues on social media who shared why they are #PublicSchoolProud. There were some great videos and posts from superintendents, school board members, state and federal lawmakers, state chiefs, and even Governors.

 

 

March Advocate: Rural Education Achievement Program Funding Cut (updated March 3, 2020)

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March Advocate: Rural Education Achievement Program Funding Cut

Each month, the AASA policy and advocacy team writes an article that is shared with our state association executive directors, which they can run in their state newsletters as a way to build a direct link between AASA and our affiliates as well as AASA advocacy and our superintendents. The article is called The Advocate, and here is the March 2020 edition.

A Big Win for Rural School Districts

In the late 1990s, AASA along with the National Education Association and the National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition worked together to ensure that No Child Left Behind contained a new funding stream dedicated to small and poor rural school districts. Realizing that rural districts struggled to leverage the formula funding in Title I, Title II, IDEA and other federal programs, we created a formula funding stream, known as the Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP) that was intended to help offset low federal funding and the diseconomies of scale these districts experience.  

Since 2002, rural districts across the nation have relied on REAP funds to purchase supplies and make technology upgrades; expand curricular offerings; provide distance learning opportunities; fund transportation; and, support professional development activities. Given the bipartisan support for rural districts, the REAP program was incorporated into ESSA in 2015.  

REAP is divided into two sub-programs, the Small and Rural Schools Program and the Rural and Low-Income Schools Program. The Department has chosen to target the Rural and Low-Income Schools Program (RLIS) Program. 

Issue: In early February, the Department quietly sent letters out to states notifying them that they are no longer able to deem certain districts as “high poverty” if they do not meet the 20 percent Census Bureau definition of poverty. Since 2002, the Department permitted states to qualify districts for RLIS based on an alternative poverty calculation such as a high rate of free-and-reduced priced lunch. States opted for this flexibility because census poverty data is often a poor metric for measuring poverty in large, rural areas and felt these districts should be eligible for RLIS funding. 

After sending notices to States that they were cutting funding to hundreds of rural districts, the Department faced considerable political backlash, which AASA helped to organize. Consequently, the Department announced States would be allowed to distribute funding to districts in using FRLP data for FY20, avoiding an immediate and arbitrary funding cut to rural districts. The Department’s reversal came about as a result of a New York Times story on February 28 that highlighted the issue as well as a letter on March 3 sent by 21 Senators, including Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, urging Secretary DeVos to reverse course and allow the funding to go out as planned in FY20. In addition, President Trump tweeted his concern from the fall-out of cuts to rural districts. 

Next Steps: This victory for rural districts was a result of behind-the-scenes advocacy by our team and we plan to proactively work with Congress to address any outstanding policy issues with RLIS funding. As a result of Congressional and political scrutiny, the Department revised the list of districts that would have lost funding if the Secretary did not rescind her initial decision. The list is available here. We will continue to fight to ensure these rural districts receive the funding they need in 2021 and beyond.  

                                                                                        

Comment on Changes to The Federal School Meals Programs! (updated February, 26 2020)

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Comment on Changes to The Federal School Meals Programs!

As was previously highlighted, in January, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced newly proposed regulations to the National School Lunch (NSLP) and School Breakfast Programs (SBP). 

The good news is that USDA's proposal is aimed at providing school districts with more administrative and nutritional flexibilities around the federal school meals programs, and if passed, will increase local school systems' control of their SBP and NSLP. Specifically, USDA intends to accomplish this through a three-pronged strategy that would offer schools more time to comply with the programs' compliance requirements, relax the programs' nutritional provisions regarding fruits and vegetables, and modify the Smart Snack in Schools Rule, so that districts' can sell revenue-raising competitive foods for longer periods of time.

At a time when school districts are being asked to do more to improve their school meal delivery systems with fewer resources, this regulation takes the correct approach in moving the needle by improving local systems operation of the federal school meals programs. However, to get this regulation across the finish line, we'll need our membership to weigh-in and let USDA know that the proposed regulation has broad support from superintendents and other school system leaders. We urge you all to let your voices be heard by following the directions below to comment on the regulation.

  1. Copy this template and fill in the highlighted fields with the requested information.
  2. Click here, and then select "Upload files," 
  3. Fill out "First Name", "Last Name", and under category select "School district"
  4. Click "Continue"
  5. On the next page, please mark the box stating, "I read and understand the statement above."
  6. Click "Submit Comment"

Comments are due on or before March 23, 2020 at 11:59 pm ET. If you are pressed for time or need help submitting the comments, AASA staff can submit them on your behalf. To do this, please reach out to Chris Rogers directly at crogers@aasa.org

February 28, 2020

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AASA’s 2020 Legislative Agenda is Finalized

On February 12th AASA’s Governing Board voted to approve the 2020 Legislative Agenda. You can access it here.

February 26, 2020

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Comments on the Study of District and School Uses of Federal Education Funds

The Department of Education is conducting a comprehensive study on how districts use Title and IDEA funding and AASA has submitted comments on their proposed Study of District and School Uses of Federal Education Funds.

How are states spending their funding? With regards to resources, specific groups of students, underperformance, and salaries.

How are the dollars being broken down and allocated under Title IV and how are the three funding options – increased accessed to a well-rounded curriculum, safe and healthy students, and increased effectivity of technology within schools – being addressed in this study.

Of particular and pressing interest, how will spending related to the REAP program be allocated? As this program is already facing major cutbacks and changes, it is important to know how this data takes this into account.

Click  here to read AASA’s full letter. 

February, 26 2020

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AASA Releases 2019-20 Superintendent Salary & Benefits Study

As the nation celebrates Public Schools Week, AASA, The School Superintendents Association, is pleased to release its eighth annual superintendent salary study.

 

This year's report - the 2019-20 AASA Superintendent Salary & Benefits Study - is based on more than 1,300 responses and gauges the compensation, benefits, and critical demands of urban, suburban and rural school system leaders across the nation.

 

To make this year's study a resource not only superintendents but for those aspiring to reach the superintendency, the report will be released in two versions: a full version for AASA members and an abridged version for wider circulation. We hope that this increases access to this valuable data on the working conditions of the nation's superintendency.

 

Click here to access a copy of the 2019-20 AASA Superintendent Salary & Benefits Study. AASA members can access the full member-only version through My.AASA.org. If you have any questions about the survey, please contact AASA's policy analyst Chris Rogers (crogers@aasa.org). 

February 18, 2020

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New School Safety Website Launched

Created partially in response to the March 2018 Parkland School shooting, the Federal School Safety Clearinghouse website SchoolSafety.gov was launched last week by the Trump Administration. The site will serve as a resource center for teachers, parents, and law enforcement and allow them to “identify, prepare for, and mitigate threats” according to Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf. To help prepare schools, the site will also have a Safety Readiness Tool that will assess school safety and assist in creating action plans to suit individual school needs. Though developed primarily for K-12 administrators, SchoolSafety.gov is available to the American public where they can review guidelines and best practices - among many other resources - that will help make and keep schools safe. “Every child should feel safe at school, and every parent should feel their child is safe each day…” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar, and SchoolSafety.gov aims to make this sentiment a reality.

To read the full release, click here

February 14, 2020

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PowerPoints of Policy and Advocacy Sessions at NCE

We are thrilled to have such a great turnout at our policy and advocacy sessions at NCE and know many folks who visited with us (as well as supts who couldn't stop by) are eager for copies of our PowerPoint presentations, so here they are:

Federal Advocacy Update 

Education in the Election 

Vouchers: Everything You Never Wanted to Know and More 

Counting Young Children In the Census

Why Rural Matters Report

2020 State of the Superintendency

February 12, 2020(1)

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AASA Responds to President’s FY21 Budget Proposal

Earlier this week, the president released his budget proposal for federal fiscal year 20201 (FY21 runs from Oct 1 2020 through September 30, 2021; FY21 dollars will be in school for the 21-22 school year). The budget continues his trend of introducing federal budget proposals that fall short of the simple willingness and ability to prioritize support for strengthening and supporting our nation’s public schools and the students they serve.  AASA remains concerned about his chronic lack of support and funding for programs that are fundamental to supporting students and children. The FY21 budget proposal continues to prioritize privatization, at the direct expense of the nation’s public schools and the 50 million students they serve every day. The proposal’s FY21 education details would fund USED at $66.6 billion (A cut of $5.6 billion, or 7.8%). Quick summary:

  • One of the pillars of the FY21 proposal would consolidate 29 programs within the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into one large, single block grant, funded at $19.4 billion (a cut of $4.7 billion from the current funding levels of the programs to be consolidated).
  • The budget increases funding for IDEA state grants by $100 million (0.8%). This brings the federal commitment to fully fund IDEA (by funding 40% of the additional costs of educating students with special needs) to just 13%, less than half of their authorized amount.
  • The budget increases funding for Career and Technical Education by $763 million.
  • The budget includes $5 billion for annual federal tax credits to support education privatization, such as vouchers.
  • The budget for the US Department of Agriculture includes a proposal to restrict participating in the Community Eligibility Programs. CEP currently allows schools and districts with high enrolments of students who quality for free/reduced priced meals to provide free meals to all students. The budget proposal would restrict participation by only allowing individual schools where at least 40% of students qualify for the meal programs. 

Read our full analysis here, as well as the statement from AASA executive director Dan Domenech. 

February 12, 2020

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AASA Leads Allied Organization Letter on EPA's proposed LCR

On February 12, 2020, AASA submitted an allied organization letter - with 14 other groups - on the EPA's proposed changes to the Lead and Copper Rule. You can view this letter here.

As we've highlighted in our previous blog posts, the proposed reg, would for the first time, require water utility companies to test for the prevalence of lead in drinking water at schools and childcare facilities.

The comment period on the proposed rule is set to close tonight at midnight ET. AASA was proud to lead this effort and elevate the voice of school system leaders on this topic. That said, we need all hands on deck to let the EPA know that if the federal government is mandating these tests, then they also need to create federal funding streams for districts to remediate lead once it's found. As such, we urge you to let your voice be heard on this issue before the comment period ends tonight. You can find directions on how to submit comments on this proposal – as well as a filling template – by clicking here.

February 6, 2020

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Schools Should Be Included in House Dems Infrastructure Package

During the last few weeks, House Democrats have signaled a renewed interest in moving a major infrastructure package to the floor. In late January, Democrat leaders unveiled a new $760 billion infrastructure framework that focused on rebuilding roadways, airport terminals, incomplete broadband networks and rail and water systems. Missing from the package was critical school infrastructure legislation championed by House Education Committee Chairman Bobby Scott which AASA and many other education groups have heartily endorsed. 
The Rebuild America's School Act, which was advanced out of the House Education Committee a year ago, would create a 10-year $70 billion grant program and a $30 billion tax credit bond program to build schools in high poverty areas. 

We plan to continue to push Democrat lawmakers to incorporate this legislation into their infrastructure package as it moves through the House and encourage Republicans to support the package as well. 

February 5, 2020

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NCE is 1 Week Away- Check Out the Policy Sessions

If you're joining us in sunny San Diego next week we have a great line up of federal policy sessions for you to sink your teeth into. 

Looking for the perfect strategy for maximizing your intake of policy issues? Try starting your day off at 9 am with AASA's federal education update where attendees will get updated on all of the latest policy issues, and a look into what's coming down the pipeline in 2020. At noon, political enthusiasts can attend the Federal Relations luncheon to devour the latest data on federal elections and public opinion polling focused on hotbed educational issues like class size, parental involvement, and teacher pay. Finally, attendees can top off the day at 3 pm with a discussion on vouchers lead by me. 

On Friday, February 14 attendees can kick off their day at 8 am to learn the importance of counting all children in the Census and the impact a successful count (or an unsuccessful one) could have on district finances for the next ten years. Then check out the Why Rural Matters 2019 session at 12:45 to see the latest state-by-state data regarding rural education issues. Attendees can then close out the day with a session on the AASA 2020 State of the Superintendency Report at 3:45 pm, where Chris will be doing a deep dive into the results of the 2020 Decennial Survey and discussing the educational trends that are most affecting superintendents.

Looking to burn off some energy this conference? Noelle will lead you through the second “Officially Unofficial Fun Run” at 6:30 a.m. Friday, Feb. 15, open to all fitness levels and paces. Find details here!

And if you want all the session details in our place check out this nifty flyer

February 4, 2020

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New Federal Grants Available for SROs and Safety Hardware

The STOP School Violence Act of 2018 gave the COPS Office authority to provide awards to improve security at schools and on school grounds through evidence-based school safety programs. Applications for SVPP can be submitted by a state, unit of local government or public school system.  

Recipients of SVPP funding must use funding for the benefit of K-12, primary and secondary schools and students. SVPP funding will provide up to 75% funding for the following school safety measures in and around K-12 schools and school grounds.

There is up to $50 million in funding is available for FY 2020 SVPP. The deadline to apply is April 8, 2020.

Grants can be used for:

Coordination with law enforcement

Training for local law enforcement officers to prevent student violence against others and self

Metal detectors, locks, lighting, and other deterrent measures

Technology for expedited notification of local law enforcement during an emergency

Any other measure that the COPS Office determines may provide a significant improvement in security

 Click here for the Quick Start Application user guide for SVPP.

January 31, 2020

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The February Advocate

Each month, the AASA policy and advocacy team writes an article that is shared with our state association executive directors, which they can run in their state newsletters as a way to build a direct link between AASA and our affiliates as well as AASA advocacy and our superintendents. The article is called The Advocate, and here is the February 2020 edition.

This January, U.S. Agriculture Secretary, Sonny Perdue, announced newly proposed regulations to the National School Lunch (NSLP) and School Breakfast Programs (SBP) aimed at providing school districts with more flexibilities around the federal school meals’ administrative and nutritional requirements. The impetus for this decision comes from long-standing complaints that the NSLP and SBP are riddled with duplicative monitoring/reporting requirements, as well as burdensome nutritional provisions that contribute to excess food waste and hamper schools' operational capacity to provide students with access to healthy well-balanced meals.

Specifically, the proposed regulations fall under three main categories, (1) proposals to simplify monitoring, (2) strategies to simplify meal service, and (3) modifications to the Smart Snack in Schools Rule. Listed below is AASA's section-by-section analysis of the regulation, which will overview the major provisions of the proposal and its implications on school system leaders.

Proposals to Simplify Monitoring

With regards to the first element of the proposed regulations, USDA is suggesting offering states the option to return to a 5-year Administrative Review Cycle (ARC). For context, the original transition away from a 5-year ARC came as a result of the passage of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFK), which mandated that USDA switch to the more comprehensive 3-year ARC – which included increased oversight responsibilities, such as the review of procurement practices and procedures – during the 2013-2014 school year. As an unintended consequence of this shift, some districts have reportedly struggled to complete reviews and corresponding oversight activities. Moreover, USDA also received feedback that the shorter ARC reduced the available time for technical assistance and training to districts, and consequently, unduly emphasized compliance over program improvement.

Additionally, under this section of the regulation, USDA would now require State Agencies to review districts– with histories of erroneous meal pattern and nutritional violations – to undergo targeted follow-up reviews to ensure high-risk SFAs comply with the administrative and nutritional requirements of the federal school meal programs.

Overall, AASA was pleased to see that USDA is proposing to move back to the 5-year ARC and to conduct targeted follow up with high-risk districts. Since the initial implementation of HHFK, school system leaders have consistently reported that the shorter 3-year administrative review cycle unnecessarily causes LEAs and SFAs to inefficiently allocate resources toward burdensome compliance-related activities, as well as limits USDA’s ability to build local and state institutions' capacities to properly administer the program. Effectively, this proposal balances the administrative flexibilities of the federal school meal programs with USDA's desire to improve program integrity, and consequently, will represent a victory for our members. Due to this, AASA will advocate for this section of the regulation to be implemented as written.

Strategies to Simplify Meal Service

Primarily, this section of the proposal relates to the nutritional standards that schools must offer children over the week. For example, current rules dictate the type and quantity of vegetables, and minimum and maximum calory counts, that districts' breakfast and lunch meals are required to contain under current law. Upon a comprehensive review of USDA's proposal to this part of the regulation, it is again clear that many of the agency's changes are intended to improve school systems' operation of NSLP and SBP by simplifying menu planning and providing more flexibilities around meal delivery across different grade spans.

Specifically, the agency is proposing to simplify meal planning by making some minor technical changes to LEAs ability to administer the federal school meal programs. For example, current nutritional provisions require that school districts serve at least 1/2 a cup of each of the vegetable subgroups listed in the American Dietary Guidelines over a school week and offer larger quantities of red/orange vegetables to students of all grades. USDA’s proposal would change this by allowing schools to serve the same weekly minimum amount (e.g., 1/2 cup) of vegetables regardless of subgroup designation. The proposed regulation would also enable school districts who use legumes – a consistently under-served and under-consumed vegetable with high protein – as a meat alternate to also count towards HHFK's weekly legume vegetable requirement.

Additionally, the proposal would enable schools with unique grade configurations to use the same meal pattern for a broader group of students; authorize SBP operators to offer students meats, meat alternates, and/or grains interchangeably; and reduce the amount of fruit required for reimbursable breakfasts served outside the cafeteria.

While policies like permitting schools to serve the same quantities of all vegetables and granting LEAs more flexibility in how they credit legumes toward meal pattern requirements may not seem like needle-moving changes, AASA was pleased to see USDA take appropriate steps to reduce operational complexity, support programmatic efficiency, and decrease food waste in schools. For our members, these proposals will ultimately lead to better strategies for serving students.

Modifications to the Smart Snack in Schools Rule

Under this proposal, USDA is also recommending to provide school districts with increased flexibilities around the Smart Snacks in Schools Rule, which establishes the nutritional standards for competitive foods sold to students outside of the school meal programs, on the school campus during the school day, and for entrées sold à la carte. If this proposal is implemented as written, then the agency will extend the entrée exemption timeframe – which applies to items sold as à la carte foods – for two days after that entrée is offered as part of a meal on the SBP or NSLP menu. In layman's terms, this would, for example, enable districts to sell pizza as a standalone item on the day the pizza is also served as part of the unitized school lunch and the following two days afterward. Moreover, this latest update of the rule proposes to permit LEAs to sell calorie-free naturally flavored waters, with or without carbonation, to students in all grade groups. 

For school system leaders, these changes represent long-overdue steps in the right direction that will simplify food procurement systems that will ultimately lead to reductions in food waste. For instance, as a result of this rule, many districts will no longer have to find multiple suppliers for identical food items that will be sold a la carte. This will enable districts to have increased discretion over how to use leftovers throughout weekly meal patterns.

AASA applauds USDA for adapting these tactics to improve local delivery of the NSLP and SBP.

Next Steps: Moving forward, AASA plans to support USDA’s proposed regulations by submitting public comments on the rule that will highlight the positive effects of the agency’s policy change on school system leaders. As part of this effort, we will be mobilizing our membership to show USDA that the regulation has broad support amongst school administrators. As of now, the public comment period for the rule is set to close on March 23, 2020. We'll need all hands on deck to get these regulations through the finish line, so stay tuned for details on how to make your voice heard in the coming weeks.

January 27, 2020

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IDEA funding is up, but federal share is down

Although Congress increased funding for special education grants to state (IDEA Part B) by $400 million for fiscal year (FY) 2020, the federal share of the “excess” cost of educating students with disabilities actually fell from 14.3 percent in FY 2019 to an estimated 13 percent in FY 2020.  (The FY 2019 estimate comes from the Congressional Research Service, and the FY 2020 estimate was provided to us by the Department of Education.)  This happens when the number of students needing services increases and/or as the intensity of needed services increases.  

When Congress enacted the first special education law in 1975, it pledged to provide up to 40 percent of the excess cost of educating students with disabilities but has never come close to this “full funding” percentage. Federal law mandates that school systems provide a free appropriate public education to all students, regardless of the federal contribution.  As a result, when the federal share of the costs declines schools need to use more of their state and local funding for special education.  If the federal government increased its share of the costs then more state and local education funding would be available to cover other education needs.  For FY 2020, Congress would have had to triple the $12.8 billion it provided to reach the full funding. Fully funding IDEA remains AASA's top advocacy priority. 

January 23, 2020(1)

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AASA Joins Letter of Support for Increased Investments to School Facilities

AASA was pleased to sign on to a recent letter to Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer supporting investing in our national infrastructure including local school facilities. AASA is a member of the Rebuild America’s Schools Coalition, which coordinated the letter. The letter comes in advance of an infrastructure finance hearing scheduled for January 29. We urge the committee to include schools in any infrastructure package, and urge our members to contact their Representatives and Senators to support the inclusion of school infrastructure including proven cost effective tax credit bonds to help finance building and repairing public school facilities which will generate local jobs.

 

 

January 23, 2020

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Guest Blog Post: Heads Up Administrators! Time to Help Count Kids

This guest blog post comes from our friends at Partnership for America’s Children.

The Census Bureau just sent its Statistics in Schools materials to every administrator, public and private, in the country. The mailout will contain three colorful large wall maps and a booklet containing information on the program including a take home letter for students to share with their family. They should arrive between January 21 and 31.

Now it’s your turn. Please ask all your teachers to use these materials and to send home the take home flyer. You can also check them out at census.gov/schools/get involved.

When schools use these materials in the classroom, it helps bring in more funding for the schools and money for programs that get kids ready for schools. How? Well, Title I funds for low income schools are allocated based on the number of k-12 children you have in your community, and special education funds are allocated based on the number of 3-21 year olds you have. Funding allocations for programs that help get kids ready to learn, like WIC, child care, Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid, and many others, are also based on the census data in your community and your state. (Teachers and administrators are used to thinking about attendance data affecting funding, but that data is used to allocate money among schools in the district; counting kids brings more money to the district.) So making sure every child is counted helps get kids ready to learn, and helps schools have the resources they need to teach.

The Statistics in Schools materials teach children about the value of census surveys, which helps get young kids counted in three ways; many school children have younger siblings at home, some teens in school have babies, and children who are the only English speakers in their families will translate the information and help fill out the census.

The Statistics in Schools materials include a flyer kids can take home to their parents to teach them about the census and why they should count their kids. We know that in 2010, one of three households with children in school saw and remembered these materials.

You can also start planning for Statistics in Schools Week in your school; that will be the first week in March.

The first mailings for the census go out March 12, in less than two months. Now is the time to teach children about the census, so they and their families know it matters to count their kids when the census arrives.

 

January 17, 2020

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Lead and Copper Rule Extended Until February 12

Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that the agency would extend the Lead and Copper Rule comment period until February 12, 2020, in response to a request by a group an allied group of water utility companies. Consequently, this gives us approximately one more month to let the EPA know loud and clear that this rule doesn't go far enough to ensure the safety of our schools drinking water, and should be accompanied by increased federal funding for districts to pursue lead remediation.

As part of this effort, AASA encourages you to comment on the rule. If you're looking for directions on how to make your voice heard, check out our call-to-action here, which provides a template and step-by-step guide on how to publically comment.

January 16, 2020

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AASA and Allied Organizations Offer Letter in Support to US ED NPRM on the TEACH Grant program.

On January 10, 2020, AASA and 17 other allied organizations submitted a letter in support of the Department of Education's proposed regulatory changes to the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program in an effort led by the Learning Policy institute.

 

For context, The TEACH Grant is a federal service scholarship program targeted at addressing teaching shortages in high-need fields and communities. The TEACH Grant Program provides scholarships of $4,000 per year (for up to 4 years) to undergraduate and graduate students who are preparing for a career in teaching, and who commit to teaching a high-need subject in a high-poverty elementary or secondary school for at least 4 years within 8 years of completing a degree. This grant is converted to a Federal Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Loan (with interest accrued from the date each grant was awarded) if a teacher is determined not to have fulfilled his or her commitment. However, most importantly for school districts, the TEACH grant is an effective method for attracting and keeping teachers in education.

 

Specifically, the Department's proposed changes fall under three categories, which are qualifying positions and schools, the grant-to-loan conversion process, and program information for grantees. Each of these has come under heavy criticism over the past year for their bureaucratic red tape (e.g., outdated lists, erroneous grant-to-loan conversions, and lack of access to programmatic information). To address these concerns, the proposed regulation would do the following:

  1. Require a teaching candidates' high-need field to be enumerated in the Nationwide List for the state in which the grant recipient teaches at the time the recipient signed the agreement to receive the TEACH Grant, even if that field subsequently loses its high-need designation for that state before the grant recipient begins teaching in that field; or (2) at the time the grant recipient begins teaching in that field, even if that field subsequently loses its high-need designation for that state;
  2. Simplify the regulations specifying the conditions under which TEACH Grants are converted to Direct Unsubsidized Loans so that, for all grant recipients, loan conversion will occur only if the recipient asks the Secretary to convert his or her TEACH Grants to loans, or if the recipient fails to begin or maintain qualifying teaching service within a timeframe that would allow the recipient to satisfy the service obligation within the 8-year service period; and
  3. Expand the information that is provided to TEACH Grant recipients during initial, subsequent, and exit counseling, and add a new conversion counseling requirement for grant recipients whose TEACH Grants are converted to Direct Unsubsidized Loans.
 

AASA was proud to support these proposed regulatory changes, as they represent an opportunity for the Department to significantly improve the effectiveness of the TEACH Grant Program and are an important piece of the work toward ensuring that every student has access to a well-prepared and diverse teacher workforce. At this point, we are waiting for the final rule from Ed. That said, we will keep you up abreast of any developments.

January 14, 2020

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New Application Process for Small Rural School Achievement Program

Last week, the Department of Education's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education announced a new application process for school districts applying for the Small Rural School Achievement (SRSA) Program. The impetus for this change stems from a review of the SRSA application, which determined that the applicant burden could be significantly reduced while maintaining appropriate accountability guardrails for the grantmaking process. As a result of these actions, a much simpler application will be open to districts on February 3, 2020.

Listed below are some noticeable highlights from the new 2020 SRSA application:

·   The new quick and easy process relies on a single platform – OMB Max Survey – to gather school district information. The previous process required school districts to navigate three sites and took three hours to complete an application. The new application process is estimated to take no more than 30 minutes to complete.

·   Eligible school districts will access the application through a unique link that the Department will send via email invitation to school district contacts, which will be provided to the Department by state educational agencies. The Department will also provide the approximately 2,500 school districts that are eligible for both the SRSA and Rural Low-Income School (RLIS) program enhanced guidance on how to choose between SRSA and RLIS, including award estimates for both RLIS and SRSA in the email invitation. This will help ensure that school districts are more informed when they choose between SRSA and RLIS

·   In order to complete the SRSA application, the school district contact will need to confirm or provide the following:

1.       School district name and contact information;

2.       Authorized representative contact information;

3.       Secondary contact information;

4.       Dun and Bradstreet (DUNS) number;

5.       General Education Provisions Act (GEPA) statement information; and

6.       Assurances.

·   After an application has been submitted, each school district will receive a confirmation email that includes the PR/award number and a summary of the school district’s SRSA application responses to keep for its records. Additionally, the school district contact will be directed to the System for Award Management (SAM) at SAM.gov to update its DUNS status.

·   The Department will conduct webinars for school district staff on February 4, March 19, and April 2, 2020 to determine the new quick and easy process for submitting the SRSA application (webinar invitations are forthcoming). The application process will also be demonstrated at the National ESEA Conference on February 6, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia (for additional details click here)

 

January 13, 2020

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AASA Leads Group Letter to Congress on Vaping Legislation

Today AASA along with our partners at the National Association of Secondary School Principals led a letter to the House of Representatives urging support for HR 2339, The Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act. 

We felt it was important to unite the education community formally around this major legislative proposal that would assist schools in addressing the vaping epidemic that is impacting one out of four high school students we educate. 

Specifically, this legislation would prohibit the use of all flavored tobacco product and extend advertising restrictions that currently apply to cigarettes to other tobacco products including e-cigarettes. 

You can read the letter here

January 5, 2019

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January Advocate: Federal Education Funding Set for 20-21 School Year

 Before the holiday break, the President signed H.R. 1865, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of FY20 into law. The bill and its provisions fund the federal government for F720 which runs from Oct 1, 2019 thru September 30, 2020. FY20 dollars will be in schools during the 2020-2021 school year. Congress has relied on a series of short-term continuing resolutions to keep government funded and running since September 30, 2019. The final continuing resolution was set to expire at midnight on December 21st meaning the timing of the bill forced an expedited floor vote schedule in both the House and the Senate. The President agreed to sign the funding bill as it provides some funding, $1.4 billion, for the border wall. He is expected to try and shift cash from other funding streams to bolster funding for the wall.

H.R. 1865 provides $1.4 trillion for FY20. The more than 2,000-page bill will appropriate $738 billion in FY20 funding for the defense discretionary spending and $632 billion for non-defense discretionary spending. Specific to education, the bill provides $40.1 billion for K-12 education programs which is an increase of $1.2 billion above the 2019 enacted level and $5.9 billion above the President’s budget request. This is the third largest increase for ED since FY11 (the year that ED funding started being cut or frozen). The bill rejects the draconian cuts to critical programs proposed by the Trump Administration as well as their continued efforts to further advance their flawed privatization agenda.  

Program Specific Details:

  • K12 Programs
    • ESSA Title I: $450m increase to $16.3b
    • ESSA Title II: $76m increase to 2.1b (first increase in 6 years)
    • ESSA Title III: $50m increase to $787 (first increase in 5 years)
    • ESSA Title IV: $40 m increase to $1.2b
    • IDEA State Grants (Part B): $417m increase to $13.9b (3% increase)
    • Impact Aid: $40m increase, to $1.4b
    • 21st Century Community Learning Centers: $28 m increase, to $1.2b
    • REAP: $5m increase to $186m
    • Career and Technical Education State Grants: $20m increase to $1.28b
    • Homeless Youth/Children: $8m increase to $105m
    • School Safety National Activities: $10m increase to $105m
  • Early Education
    • Head Start: $550m increase to $10.6b
    • Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG): $550m increase to $5.8b
  • Funding and Policy Beyond The Labor-Health-Education Bill
    • STOP School Violence Act Grants: $25m increase to $125m
    • Secure Rural Schools/Forest Counties: The bill reauthorizes and provides two years of funding for the SRS program for FY19 and FY20
    • DC Voucher: Reauthorizes the program for 4 additional years
    • Raises the age for purchasing tobacco products including e-cigarettes to 21 from 18.
    • Provides $12.5m in funding for researching gun violence prevention
    • Adequately funds the Census to ensure it can be properly administered
    • Contains policy language instructing CMS and ED to work together to reduce administrative barriers for providing health services in and in coordination with schools and provide technical assistance to assist with billing and payment administration for Medicaid services in schools.
    • Repeals the Cadillac Tax from the Affordable Care Act

AASA is pleased to see that Congress prioritized increased funding for our key formula programs like IDEA and Title I. However, this funding is still short of what districts were receiving in FY11 when adjusting for inflation. Furthermore, while it’s true that IDEA received a 3.2% boost in this bill, which represents a slightly higher percentage increase than what the other key K12 programs received, this increase is only a little better than inflation, which is projected to be 2% in 2020. Effectively, this means that IDEA is only receiving a real increase of 1.2% while the number of children with disabilities districts are educating continues to increase. As we look ahead to FY21 AASA will continue to push Congressional leadership and appropriators to make greater investments in IDEA until it is fully funded.

 

December 17, 2019

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FY20 Funding Bill Is Finalized

On December 16, Congress released H.R. 1865, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of FY20. The bill and its provisions fund the federal government for F720 which runs from Oct 1, 2019 thru September 30, 2020. FY20 dollars will be in schools during the 2020-2021 school year. Congress has relied on a series of short-term continuing resolutions to keep government funded and running since September 30, 2019. The final continuing resolution was set to expire at midnight on December 21st meaning the timing of the bill forced an expedited floor vote schedule in both the House and the Senate.The House plans to pass the fiscal 2020 spending bills in two packages on Tuesday, likely followed by Senate passage before federal funding runs out at midnight on Friday. The President has indicated he will sign the funding bill as it provides some funding, $1.4 billion, for the border wall and he is expected to try and shift cash from other funding streams to bolster funding for the border wall.

Overview: H.R. 1865 provides $1.4 trillion for FY20. The more than 2,000-page bill will appropriate $738 billion in fiscal 2020 funding for the defense discretionary spending and $632 billion for non-defense discretionary spending. Specific to education the bill provides $40.1 billion for K-12 education programs which is an increase of $1.2 billion above the 2019 enacted level and $5.9 billion above the President’s budget request. The bill rejects the draconian cuts to critical programs proposed by the Trump Administration as well as their continued efforts to further advance their flawed privatization agenda.  

Program Specific Details:

K12 Programs

  • ESSA Title I: $450m increase to $16.3 b
  •  ESSA Title II: $76m increase to 2.1b (first increases in 6 years
  • ESSA Title III: $50m increase to $787 (first increase in 5 years)
  •  ESSA Title IV: $40 m increase to $1.2b
  •  IDEA State Grants (Part B): $417m increase to $13.9b (3% increase
  • Impact Aid: $40m increase, to $1.4b 
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers: $28 m increase, to $1.2b 
  • REAP: $5m increase to $186m
  •  Career and Technical Education State Grants: $20m increase to $1.28b
  • Homeless Youth/Children: $8 m increase to 105m
  • School Safety National Activities: $10m increase to $105m
  • A new Social-Emotional Learning initiative would get $123 to support SEL and "whole child" approaches to education. 

Early Education

  •  Head Start: $550m increase to $10.6b
  • Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG): $550m increase to $5.8b

Funding and Policy Beyond The Labor-Health-Education Bill

  • STOP School Violence Act Grants: $25m increase to $125m
  • Secure Rural Schools/Forest Counties: The bill reauthorizes and provides two years of funding for the SRS program for FY19 and FY20
  • DC Voucher: Reauthorizes the program for 4 additional years
  • Raises the age for purchasing tobacco products including e-cigarettes to 21 from 18.
  • Provides $12.5m in funding for researching gun violence prevention
  • Adequately funds the Census to ensure it can be properly administered
  • Contains policy language instructing CMS and ED to work together to reduce administrative barriers for providing health services in and in coordination with schools and provide technical assistance to assist with billing and payment administration for Medicaid services in schools.
  • Repeal of the Cadillac tax in the Affordable Care Act.

 

December 16, 2019

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AASA Urges House To Support SALT-D Bill

Today AASA sent a letter to the House of Representatives in advance of their vote to reinstate the state and local tax (SALT) deduction cap for 2020 and 2021. You can read our letter below:  

Dear Representative:

On behalf of AASA, The School Superintendents, representing more than 13,000 public school system leaders across the nation, I write to offer our strong support for the Restoring Tax Fairness for States and Localities Act (H.R. 5377).

We believe Congress should act quickly to adjust the state and local tax (SALT) deduction cap to minimize harm to taxpayers and local school districts. The Restoring Tax Fairness for States and Localities Act lifts the cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction in 2020 and 2021, which is an important first step towards the full reinstatement of this critical deduction. As one of the six original deductions allowed under the original tax code, SALT-D has a long history and is a critical support for investments in infrastructure, public safety, homeownership and, specific to our work, our nation’s public schools. Reinstating this deduction would decrease tax rates for certain taxpayers, increase disposable income, and increase the likelihood of support for local tax levies for education.

The ripple effects from the new SALT cap deduction of $10,000 is already having significant deleterious impacts on some state budgets budget, and those of local school districts. Moreover, the Tax Cuts and Jos Act has created significant uncertainty for state and local budgets as it is not entirely certain how taxpayers may alter their behavior to decrease their overall tax liability. Without the enactment of H.R. 5377 schools will be under tremendous pressure to reduce and constrain tax levies, even with ongoing inadequate state aid, to provide relief to taxpayers impacted by the SALT cap. Ultimately, these pressures pressures will have a deleterious impact on the educational opportunities and outcomes for our students and undermine our country’s ability to produce students who are college and career ready.

AASA urges the swift passage of this important legislation and encourages the Senate to take up this bill as soon as possible.

December 12, 2019

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FASFA Simplification Bill Moves Forward

One of AASA's priorities for the Higher Education Act reauthorization is simplifying the Free Application for  Student Financial Assistance (FASFA). Superintendents believe that students, particularly our low-income students, struggled with obtaining tax information required for the application and generally found the length and depth of the application to be complex and overwhelming to complete. We are pleased that Congress is taking action to address this issue by passing legislation that would eliminate 22 questions currently on the FASFA, allow for direct data sharing between IRS and ED as well as streamline enrollment in and renewal of income-driven repayment  plans for borrowers by removing the need for students to self-certify their income to prove eligibility for federal plans. The bill also takes meaningful steps to reduce verification burden, a process that disproportionately affects low-income students, and is burdensome for students and families.  

The reason this legislation is moving forward now is that the Senate has given up on trying to pass a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act this Congress. Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is retiring and simplifying the FASFA was one of his key priorities for the higher-ed rewrite. Since the legislation is not moving forward legislators in both chambers agreed to work together to pass this major priority for Alexander. 

House Democrats may still try and move their partisan re-write of the Higher Education Act (which passed out of Committee on a party-line vote) to the floor in January, but it's unclear if they have the votes within their own party to move it forward. 

 

December 11, 2019(1)

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AASA Advocates For Federal Policies to Curb Youth Vaping

As early as next week legislation may be sent to President Trump that would raise the age of purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21. This important policy change is hopefully the first and not the only step Congress will take to address the youth vaping crisis via legislation. There was agreement among both public health advocates and tobacco companies that raising the age to 21 made sense, which is why it was so easily passed. While this is certainly policy movement in the right direction AASA believes there is much more that can and should be done to help schools mitigate the e-cigarette epidemic.

Specifically, we support three bills that would address vaping. The first, the Smoke-Free Schools Act of 2019,  would ban e-cigarette use in educational and childcare facilities that receive federal funding.

The second, the SAFE Kids Act, would ban the use of all flavored e-cigarette products unless it can be proven that it does not increase youth initiation of nicotine or tobacco products.

The third, The Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act, would ban the use of all flavored tobacco products (including e-cigarettes), prohibit online sales of tobacco products and extend advertising restrictions that currently apply to cigarettes to e-cigarettes to prevent marketing that targets youth.

AASA plans to engage more aggressively in 2020 in pushing these bills forward in both chambers. 

December 11, 2019

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FCC Order on E-Rate Category 2 Funds Published

Last week, the FCC released its long awaited order on the E-Rate category 2 formula. It was an expected decision, but not one that we wanted. The Commission agreed to make permanent the formula-based funding distribution method for category 2, which provides support for Wi-Fi and internal connections, but with a few significant tweaks. One major change to category 2 that the Commission will implement is increasing the floor funding level from $9,200 to $25,000 in order to persuade more small schools and libraries to apply. The Commission agreed to leave the school formula of $150 per pupil unchanged but also decided to establish a single formula for libraries rather than have different formulas for urban libraries. The Commission’s order will also allow for school district-wide and library-system wide budgeting which will allow them to allocate category 2 funding as they see fit. The order also clarified that the category 2 formula’s five year cycle will be fixed and not rolling, and that the next five year cycle will begin for all applicants in 2021. 2020 will be a transition year, with all schools and libraries eligible for pro-rated funding. Comments received by the Commission in this rule making did request that it make cyber security and wi-fi on school buses eligible for support but the final order did not agree to those changes. 

We are still awaiting the final order on the E-Rate cap. 

December 10, 2019(1)

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Call-To-Action: Comment on the EPA's Lead and Copper Pipe Rule

As was highlighted in our latest edition of the December Advocate, the Environmental Protection Agency announced new provisions to the Lead and Copper Pipe Rule (LCR), which, for the first time, dictates how Community Water Systems (CWS) test for the prevalence of lead in schools’ and childcare centers’ drinking water. While this is a step in the right direction, the rule doesn't go far enough to ensure the safety of our students’ drinking water. Moreover, AASA is concerned about the lack of federal funding available to districts to remediate the prevalence of lead in schools; and with how this proposal could result in the dissemination of erroneous information about the safety of a school’s drinking water to district leaders, school personnel, students and parents.

The tragedy in Flint Michigan reminded us all of the dangers that lead poses to our students' well-being, so we know that schools can't be complacent on this issue. Due to this, AASA is mobilizing its membership to weigh in on their concern for protecting the nation's drinking water. We'll need all-hands-on-deck to let the EPA know loud and clear that this is not enough for our districts. As such, we implore our members to join us in this critical effort. To comment on the proposal, please follow the directions below.

  1. Copy this template and fill in the highlighted fields with the requested information. 
  2. Go to https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=EPA-HQ-OW-2017-0300 and click "Comment Now," on the
    National Primary Drinking Water Regulations: Lead and Copper Rule Revisions
  3. In the ‘Comment” box, type something similar to this: “As the superintendent of xxx, I submit the following comments on the proposed regulation titled "National Primary Drinking Water Regulations: Lead and Copper Rule Revisions." 
  4. Below the comment box:
    • Upload your completed template 
    • Click continue 
  5. On the next page mark the box stating "I read and understand the statement above."
  6. Click "submit comments"
Comments are due on or before January 13, 2020. Also, If you are pressed for time or need help submitting the comments, AASA staff can submit them on your behalf. To do this, please reach out to Chris Rogers directly at crogers@aasa.org.   

 

December 10, 2019

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AASA Urges Senate Committee To Support SRS

On Thursday the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will be voting on S.430 To Extend Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act. We sent this letter urging everyone on the Committee to support the bill and urging for its inclusion in the FY20 final spending package.

December 6, 2019

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AASA Endorses The Diversify Act

This week, AASA is proud to announce its endorsement of the Diversifying by Investing in Educators and Students to Improve Outcomes For Youth Act (DIVERSIFY Act), in alignment with our higher Ed priority to support the preservation and expansion of resources in Title II of the Higher Education Act for future and current teachers to address the national teacher shortage. For context, the TEACH grants are a service scholarship program that provides $4,000 per year in funding to undergraduate and graduate students who commit to teaching a high-need subject at a high-poverty elementary or secondary school for 4 years upon graduation. Unfortunately, since 2007 the grant award has not increased to keep up with the rising cost of college. Consequently, limiting the program's potential and disincentivizing low-income and diverse teacher candidates from entering the educator workforce.

To fix this, the Diversify Act would (1) increase the maximum TEACH Grant award to $8,000 per year to align with the full cost of college – which exceeds $20,000 a year; and (2) protect the TEACH Grant award from being cut by the Budget Control Act which this year alone resulted in a decrease to the maximum award amount by nearly $250. At a time when one of the major barriers to a well-prepared and diverse teacher workforce is the high cost of college and student loan debt, these reforms will save districts the expense of replacing educators who quickly leave the field, and ensure that the students furthest away from opportunity will have access to diverse teachers who have completed high-quality pathways into the profession.

December 5, 2019

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The December Advocate

Each month, the AASA policy and advocacy team writes an article that is shared with our state association executive directors, which they can run in their state newsletters as a way to build a direct link between AASA and our affiliates as well as AASA advocacy and our superintendents. The article is called The Advocate, and here is the December 2019 edition.

This November, the Environmental Protection Agency announced new provisions to the Lead and Copper Pipe Rule (LCR), which, for the first time, dictates how Community Water Systems (CWS) test for the prevalence of lead in schools’ and childcare centers’ drinking water.

The EPA proposal would require Community Water Systems to collect samples from five drinking water outlets at each school and two drinking water outlets at each childcare facility served by the CWS. This rule will signify the first federal regulation dictating how schools must test for lead since the passage of the LCR in 1981.

This regulation has the potential to be helpful to districts. Seventeen states have no laws requiring that all schools test for lead in drinking water and this will be a positive step in the right direction for school leaders in those states. However, the revised rule doesn’t go far enough to ensure that school leaders are given an accurate picture of the safety of their students’ drinking water.

The regulation fails to outline effective lead testing procedures for CWS’s that serve public schools and childcare facilities, which could lead to confusion and false negatives for superintendents who are trying to interpret, inform and remediate lead testing results for their students and communities.

Specifically, the rule would require CWS’s that serve a public school or childcare facility to alert school system leaders to any testing results that score above the EPA’s 15 micrograms of lead per liter of water (15 ppb) action level. While this does signify an improvement from the status quo, we’re concerned that this criterion could mislead school system leaders into believing their water systems are safe for consumption.

The reason for this goes back to the establishment of the action level in 1991. During that time, the EPA created the action level under the rationale that it was a realistic metric of compliance for CWS’s. At the time, the EPA also acknowledged that there was no established safe level of lead exposure, and since then, has put forth research indicating that even low lead blood levels in children highly correlate to physical and neurological disabilities.

Considering this research and the expanded scope of the LCR to test schools and childcare facilities, it is incomprehensible that the EPA has not adopted a more stringent action threshold in the 28 years since its implementation.

Moreover, the EPA’s action level is practically useless because the testing results do not show superintendents whether their schools’ drinking water is safe. Instead, the test indicates whether a CWS is complying with the 15ppb action level. This is a borderline negligent misstep by the EPA, as it could cause superintendents, who are looking to be transparent with lead testing results, to unknowingly misrepresent the safety of their drinking water.   

In response, AASA is advocating for the EPA to fix this flaw by urging the agency to adopt a 1 ppb standard for lead in schools’ drinking water and share guidance to any district that undergoes lead testing. Additionally, we are imploring the EPA to continue working with the U.S. Dept. of Education to develop strategies that help LEAs properly communicate lead testing results to their stakeholders.

Similarly to the EPA’s action level, there are also flaws with the proposed regulation’s lead testing procedures for CWS’s. While the multiple testing requirements are a step in the right direction, it is not enough since the corrosion and breaking off of lead particles from pipes can be highly variable.

According to Environment America's 2019 report, “Get the Lead Out,” multiple water tests from one tap can result in highly variable lead levels between samples. For example, in a lead sampling study conducted in 2013, researchers concluded that a single sample from a water tap could not accurately reflect the levels of lead flowing through the fixture. Consequently, this means that depending on multiple variables (e.g., weather, time of day, or location of an outlet), LEAs may receive inaccurate results from federal lead testing. To address the variability of lead testing, AASA is pushing the EPA to amend the rule so that CWS’s must test all water drinking outlets in a district to ensure our members have access to the most accurate information.

Finally, AASA is concerned about the lack of federal funding that is available to implement these new testing provisions for LEAs that act as their own CWS. According to the EPA, approximately 7,000 schools control their water supply (such as a well) and are regulated under the LCR. For these entities, the new provisions of the LCR could create financial hardships for LEAs with limited resources.

In addition, for districts that discover that there is lead in their water, there is no funding for remediation at the federal level that they can access. They would have to dip into local education funding to acquire filters, replace faucets and fountains and take other steps to get the lead out. At a minimum the EPA should include a list of federal and state funding resources for LEAs that independently conduct their lead testing and that may have to remove lead from water systems when it is found.

However, we also believe it’s imperative that EPA and the Administration propose new funding to help schools fix the problem - i.e., install filters, replace lead-bearing fixtures, etc.

Overall, AASA believes this regulation is a long overdue step in the right direction, but feels the rule falls short of ensuring children and school personnel are not exposed to lead in schools. However, by amending the action level to 1ppb, increasing LEAs’ access to lead testing guidance, improving testing procedures for CWS’s, and making funding materials more available to districts, this proposal has the potential to ensure greater steps are taken to improve the safety of drinking water at public schools and childcare facilities.

AASA will comment on the NPRM before the closing date on January 13, 2020. We will provide a template on the Leading Edge Blog for you to comment as well. We hope you take a moment to weigh in on this important regulation.

 

December 3, 2019

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Call 1-800 Line And Request More IDEA Funding

AASA is proud to co-chair the IDEA Full Funding Coalition and increasing IDEA funding is our organization's top federal priority. As negotiations on appropriations come to a close this week we are excited that a few of our coalition partners have created a 1-800 line that superintendents can use to call their Reps/Senators and urgently request greater funding for IDEA. 

On Thursday we are targeting the House and on Friday we are targeting the Senate. Details are below. 

Call your Representative in the House starting on Thursday at 877-682-6145 and once you provide your zip code you will be automatically directed to your Reps office. Here's the script you can use for the call:

Hi, my name is ___________ and I am a constituent and the superintendent of xx   ____________.  I am calling to urge my Representative to increase funding for IDEA which provides resources for special education in the bill funding the Department of Education that Congress is working on now. Our district desperately needs Congress to adequately address rising special education costs which encroach on our operating budgets and we urge Congress to direct any increased funding for education toward this key formula grant program. (Feel free to mention other funding streams like Title I and Title IV that you also support). 

Call your Senator on Friday at 877-582-2913. Once you provide your zip code you will be automatically connected to one of your two Senators. Here's the script you can use for the call: 

Hi, my name is ___________ and I am a constituent and the superintendent of xx   ____________.  I am calling to urge my Senator to increase funding for IDEA which provides resources for special education in the bill funding the Department of Education that Congress is working on now. Our district desperately needs Congress to adequately address rising special education costs which encroach on our operating budgets and we urge Congress to direct any increased funding for education toward this key formula grant program. (Feel free to mention other funding streams like Title I and Title IV that you also support). 

November 27, 2019

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AASA Organizes Letter Advocating for More IDEA Funding

AASA is proud to co-chair the IDEA Full Funding Coalition, a coalition of education and disability groups that advocate for the full funding of IDEA. Yesterday, AASA sent a letter on behalf of the coalition to Senate appropriators urging them to work together with their counterparts in the House to increase investments in the federal education programs that serve students with disabilities. The letter was signed by 24 national organizations. 

 

November 26, 2019(1)

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Congress Makes Progress on Appropriations But Concerns Remain

On Saturday, Appropriations leaders reached agreement on totals for each of the 12 FY 2020 funding bills, paving the way for Congress to pass as many of those bills as possible in the next four weeks.  The 12 bill allocations, known as the “302(b)” levels, have not been made public but we expect that the Labor-HHS-Education bill will get a boost above the effective 1% increase that the Senate Appropriations Committee had originally approved this fall but well below the 6.6% ($11.8 billion) increase in the House bill passed this spring. 

However, there is concern with how the bills will move forward before December 20th. There could be a “minibus’ where a few bills are packaged together and voted on as a group. Last year, the Defense and the Labor-HHS-Education bills were packaged together and enacted before the start of FY 2019, which meant those programs were not directly affected when much of the rest of the government shut down when their funding bills were not enacted or extended.  That scenario could happen again, although some Members of Congress may worry that passing the two biggest bills leaves less urgency to pass the remaining 10 bills.

Another option is that some bills are passed, but agreement on others is stymied; this has happened when Congress couldn’t agree on funding for key programs but didn’t want to hold up the rest of the bills. Another scenario is that not all bills are finalized by December 20, requiring another CR. The impeachment inquiry brings up a number of obstacles to the appropriations process, including the time it takes and the rancor it causes.  If the House is voting on articles of impeachment at about the same time it is scheduled to vote on appropriations bills, the process could stall for many reasons. 

November 26, 2019

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AASA Endorses Homework Gap Legislation

AASA is pleased to endorse legislation introduced by Rep. Grace Meng which would create a $100 million grant program for schools to purchase mobile hotspots to help close the nation’s homework gap. The bill, Closing the Homework Gap Through Mobile Hotspots Act, would ensure that students can access the internet through mobile hotspot devices to complete their assignments at home.  

 

November 19, 2019(1)

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AASA Files Testimony in Senate Energy Committee

In light of an important hearing being held by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on the future funding of the Secure Rural Schools program AASA submitted the following testimony to the Committee arguing for an immediate extension of funding and a long-term solution to funding for the program.

November 19, 2019

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AASA Submits Comments to FTC on COPPA

Today AASA submitted comments to the FTC on proposed changes to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). If not amended the FTC proposal could pose major administrative obstacles for school districts.The proposed rule would guarantee a number of rights to parents in connection with the data collected from their children who are under the age of 13 in schools. These include the right to receive direct notice prior to the collection of such data, the right to review the personal information collected from their child, the right to revoke their consent and refuse the further use or collection of personal information from their child, and the right to delete their child’s personal information. AASA believes that the rights enumerated above should remain in the hands of schools and not placed into the hands of parents in order to assure the administrative, educational, privacy, and equity benefits of the use of Ed Tech.

If schools must actively obtain parental consent, this is likely to cause a number of harmful and unintended consequences. First, the requirement will create a substantial administrative burden on schools. Districts rarely receive 100% return on requests for parent consent which may impede the function and operation of critical technology services. Online and Ed Tech services, including learning management systems that deliver curriculum by collecting student input and providing an individualized level of instruction depending on student individual response, are ubiquitous in schools and may provide vital school functions. Additionally, some school districts serve tens of thousands of students and operate multiple educational software programs and applications that may serve the same purpose as textbooks or other core curricular materials. Therefore, in addition to the administrative burden, this requirement could shut down or inhibit many vital school functions, like managing curriculum materials, taking attendance, or transferring transcripts. For these reasons we urge the FTC to formally align COPPA with FERPA and allow schools to provide consent to Ed-Tech providers. 

 

November 18, 2019

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AASA Submits Comments on New CRDC

Today AASA submitted comments on the new Civil Rights Data Collection request for 2019-20. In our comments we recognized that the Department has taken steps to reduce the number of items districts must report on by 22%, but that this is still a time and resource intensive process that must be greatly diminished in future collections. We also commented on the new data points that the Department is planning to add to the collection related to bullying and sexual assault. Our comments are available here.

November 15, 2019

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Awesome PD Opportunity: Train-the-Trainer program on student data privacy

Since 2013, over 130 new student privacy laws have passed in 41 states, with more bills and regulations being rolled out each year with many new requirements for educators and administrators to implement. Some state laws include the threat of jail or large fines when school staff even unintentionally violate student privacy. Unfortunately, few states have received funding or support in implementing these new laws. This isn’t only a legal problem: as technology changes and the amount of information schools collect and maintain increases, ensuring that administrators have the information and skills needed to adequately oversee and protect student privacy in their day-to-day work is extremely challenging. 

District superintendents are essential to successful privacy programs, but it can be difficult for them to know where to begin. The Future of Privacy Forum, a nonprofit focused on consumer privacy, is launching a Train-the-Trainer program in 2020 to build the capacity of district superintendents and other key stakeholders to become student privacy experts to help the districts they serve and also become regionally and/or nationally known student privacy trainers and evangelists. Whether you are new to the student privacy world or an experienced practitioner, the free one-year FPF Student Privacy Train-the-Trainer Program will provide the knowledge and skills to make you a student privacy leader while also connecting you with a peer network and student privacy experts from across the country.  

Participants should have a strong interest in student privacy, the willingness to conduct student privacy trainings at their institutions or relevant conferences, and be able to dedicate approximately eight hours per month for virtual webinars (1-2 hours) and asynchronous activities (6 hours). Participants will also need to travel to Washington, D.C. for in-person workshops in February 2020 and November 2020. Travel scholarships are available for a limited number of participants. To learn more and apply or nominate someone else to be part of the program, please visit https://ferpasherpa.org/tttapplication.Applications are accepted and reviewed on a rolling basis but must be submitted no later than December 8th.  

November 14, 2019(1)

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AASA Files Amicus in Supreme Court Case on Vouchers

AASA was proud to join the National School Boards Association and many other education associations in an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in a pivotal school voucher case that the Court will hear in January known as Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. In the brief we argue that tuition tax credit programs like Montana's harm public education and that States' have a constitutional right to not fund religious instruction are part of their historic commitment to public education. You can read our brief here.

November 14, 2019

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FY 2020 Approps Update: 2nd CR

This week, lawmakers announced that they are considering passing another continuing resolution (CR) to fund the federal government from November 22nd through December 20th thus marking the second time Congress has delayed the FY2020 spending deadline. If President Trump approves the CR, appropriators will have another month to negotiate topline spending numbers and funding for Trump's border wall, which they've made little progress on so far. The problem here is that although lawmakers chose the December 20th deadline to pressure appropriators into action, the new funding deadline will coincide with the House vote on articles of impeachment. Consequently, this has created a scenario where the impeachment proceedings could complicate spending talks, though the timing of a potential House impeachment vote is still unclear.
 
While the White House has indicated that the President is in support of another CR, Trump has let his disdain for impeachment affect other non-related negotiations in the past. Therefore, although a CR is likely, it's anyone's best guess on whether Trump will approve the second stop gap funding measure, or if impeachment will derail the appropriations process past December 20th. Regardless, AASA will continue to keep you informed on how this plays out and advocate for higher education funding levels than in FY19. 

November 7, 2019

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New report: Rural schools need greater support

This guest blog post was written by Alan Richard, a national education writer and a longtime Rural School and Community Trust board member.

Many schools in rural America thrive. Rural and small-town schools are the kinds of places every parent wishes to send their children--where they can get personal attention, develop caring relationships, and find extra help and support.

Too often, however, rural schools across the country face an utter lack of adequate resources as they strive to provide all students with education that prepares them for life after high school.

That’s among the key findings of the new report Why Rural Matters 2018-19: The Time Is Now from the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rural School and Community Trust.

The Rural School and Community Trust is proud to partner with AASA on the release of this report. Both organizations have worked together closely for years, and we’re honored to continue our work with the nation’s school superintendents.

 A few highlights from the new edition of Why Rural Matters

  •  Nearly 7.5 million students were enrolled in rural school districts--almost one in seven public school students in the U.S. in the 2016-17 school year. About one in six of those rural students were from families living in poverty.
  • More than 9.3 million students attended rural schools (including those in districts classified as non-rural by the National Center for Education Statistics). That’s nearly one in five U.S. students--and more students than in the nation’s 85 largest school districts combined.
  • The top 10 highest-need states in rural education, as ranked in the report across a wide array of measures: 1) Mississippi, 2) Alabama and North Carolina (tied), 4) Oklahoma, 5) South Dakota, 6) West Virginia, 7) Georgia, 8) South Carolina, 9) Louisiana, and 10) Florida.
  • In 12 states, at least half of public schools are rural:Montana, South Dakota, Vermont, North Dakota, Maine, Alaska, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Wyoming, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Mississippi. 
  • Why policymakers sometimes forget about rural schools: A majority of rural students live in states where they’re less than 25 percent of school enrollment.  
  • The national median enrollment for rural districts is only 494 students. In 23 states, half of rural districts enroll fewer than the median.In Montana, North Dakota,andVermont, 90 percent of rural districts do.  
  • About half of rural students in the U.S. live in 10 states: Texas has the most rural students (694,000), followed by North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Alabama, and Indiana. 
  • State rankings, averages can disguise challenges: Just because your state looks good overall, doesn’t mean that rural schools don’t face major challenges. Some challenges face only specific regions or types of districts. 
  • Only 9.5 percent of the nation’s rural students passed Advanced Placement (AP) courses in 2018-19, compared with 19 percent of all U.S. high school students, 18.8 percent of urban students, and 24.1 percent of suburban students. 
  •  Rural students outscored non-rural students on the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in a majority of states with available data. Rural achievement is very low in some states, however. 
  • The gap in achievement between rural students in poverty and rural students not in poverty was greatest in Maryland, Mississippi, and Washington--and narrowest in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Montana.
  • Many states provide a larger proportion of funding for rural districts, but 12 states provided less funding proportionately, including Nebraska, Vermont, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Massachusetts, California, and Ohio.
  • A national average of $6,367 is spent on the instruction of each rural student. The lowest state averages were $4,118 in Idaho and $4,737 in Oklahoma.Texas alsoinvested relatively low amounts on instruction for each rural student ($5,386). The highest averages were $14,380 in Alaska and $13,226 in New York.  
  • Many states in the Midwest and Great Plains regions invest relatively high amounts in each rural student--but about $3,500 less than most Northeastern states.  
  • Even when adjusted for comparable local wages, average rural educator salaries (all instructional staff) varied widely: Kansas was lowest at $54,454, Alaska highest at $102,736. States with the next-lowest average salaries for rural educators: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Florida, and Missouri. The highest were in Alaska, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Wyoming.

The success and struggles of rural schools have a profound impact on our nation. We all should support greater, smarter investments in rural schools, especially those serving students who need the most support to succeed. 

 

November 1, 2019(1)

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FY20 Education Funding Still in Limbo

On Thursday, the Senate took the first step to advance the Fiscal Year 2020-2021 appropriations process by passing a bipartisan package of bills that would fund the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Science, Interior, Environment, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development.

Unfortunately, the fate of the Defense-Labor-HHS-Education minibus, which includes our slice of the pie for education funding, is far from certain. Specifically, negotiations have stalled for two reasons. The first obstacle concerns disagreements over Defense spending, as Senate Democrats are adamantly against the Trump Administration’s proposal to transfer FY 2019 military construction money to build a southern border wall. The second impediment to the process is the top-line spending numbers for the Departments of Labor-HHS-Education. Under the Senate appropriations bill, the allocation freezes funding for the Departments of Labor-HHS-Education at the FY 2019 level, even though Congress enacted an overall $27 billion increase in non-defense discretionary funding for FY 2020. As a contrast, the Energy-Water bill that was passed this week includes a 9% funding increase. Level funding Education is a non-starter for Senate Democrats, as the House bill allocated 1 billion in additional funding for both IDEA and Title I.

At this point, Congressional leaders know they don't have enough time to pass the 12 spending bills that fund the federal government before the end of the fiscal year on November 21st and agree that another CR is necessary to avoid a government shutdown. Since our update last week there seems to be growing consensus by Democratic and Republican leadership that the next CR shouldn't last beyond Dec 31st so that appropriators are pressured to pass the 2020 spending bills. However, considering the outstanding issues between the two parties, the impeachment inquiry, and the amount of time left on the congressional calendar, it's looking more likely that we'll end up with a year-long continuing resolution, which as you'll recall will decrease the purchasing power of LEAs. That said, the fight is far from over. Regardless, AASA will keep you up to date on all the latest funding movements on Capitol Hill.

November 1, 2019

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November Advocate

 

Every month, the AASA policy and advocacy team writes an article that is shared with our state association executive directors, which they can run in their state newsletters, a way to build a direct link not only between AASA and our affiliates, but also AASA advocacy and our superintendents. The article is called The Advocate, and here is the November 2019 edition

This year negotiations began to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), which is the authorizing statute that determines the policies, procedures, and practices of the nation's higher education system. HEA is supposed to be reauthorized every 6-7 years and was last updated in 2008. Given the amount of time since the last comprehensive HEA reauthorization, lawmakers on Capitol Hill were eager to dust off the law that governs the nation’s higher education system and implement long-awaited administrative and programmatic changes that have been called for by policymakers on both sides of the aisle. Unlike previous HEA reauthorizations, the process this year began in the Senate as Chairman Lamar Alexander of the Health Education and Labor (HELP) Committee announced his retirement in 2020 and is seeking one last victory before leaving office.

Early in the process, Alexander indicated that he was committed to conducting bipartisan negotiations with Ranking Member Patty Murray. However, outstanding issues over Title II (teacher prep), Title IV (student aid), and Title IX (sexual assault and harassment guidance) effectively ended any bipartisan will to update HEA in the Senate. With his back against the wall, Alexander took an unprecedented move of introducing a piecemeal HEA package, dubbed The Student Aid Improvement Act, in an attempt to advance his bipartisan priorities of simplifying FASFA, increase the transparency of the cost of college, and extend Pell to short-term programs and incarcerated individuals. Furthermore, he also attached his HEA priorities with a separate $255 million bipartisan funding bill for black colleges and universities, and other minority-serving institutions to bypass negotiations with Senate Democrats. In response, Murray announced that the Democrats had no interest in a piecemeal approach, thereby kicking the can to the House.

On the House side, Chairman Bobby Scott of the Education and Labor committee released his comprehensive partisan reauthorization of HEA in October—called the College Affordability Act—after seemingly waiting for Alexander to make a move and several months of negotiations with other House Democrats. Similarly, to Scott’s 2018 Aim Higher Act, the bill takes substantial steps towards improving the affordability of post-secondary programs for all students, while also delivering on a set of liberal lawmakers' Higher Ed priorities. After reviewing the 1,000+ page text of the bill, AASA was pleased to find the following updates to the law:

Title II

·       Under Title II of the Act, the bill reauthorizes and expands the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) Grant program, which enables Institutes of Higher Education (IHE) and State Education Agencies (SEA) to partner with a high needs Local Education Agency (LEA) to create cohort-based teacher residency models that offer students clinical experience in school settings. Specifically, the Act expands the allowable use of TQP grants to develop school leader preparation programs (e.g., superintendent and principal pipelines); empowers TQP grantees to develop "Grow Your Own" partnerships for recruiting and supporting diverse paraprofessionals in gaining professional teaching certifications; and, increases the authorized spending level of the program to $500,000,000.

Title IV

·       Under Title IV, lawmakers made significant changes to the U.S. Dept. of Education TEACH Grant program by redirecting the grant’s aid to junior and senior teacher prep candidates and expanding the maximum award amount to $8,000 per year. Furthermore, the bill also tackles critiques of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program by including language in the act to create one Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan that addresses the public's confusion about how to qualify for PSLF. House Dems also threw educators a win by streamlining PSLF so that teachers can count loan payments for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program at the same time as PSLF, which reduces the number of monthly payments that educators need to make to qualify for loan forgiveness.

·       Additionally, under Title IV the bill encourages historically underrepresented student groups to earn college credits early by increasing the authorized spending level of the TRIO and GEAR UP programs to $1.2B. Moreover, the law emphasizes college completion by allocating additional funding to states so that students can access early credit pathways such as dual enrollment, early college high schools, and AP and IB and programs. Finally, the bill expands access to post-secondary programs by simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Title IX 

·       Also, of importance to superintendents, the bill directs the Secretary of Education to abandon the U.S. ED's regulatory efforts to weaken existing Title IX guidance to IHEs and LEAs.

 

Following the release of the College Affordability Act, the bill was marked-up by the House Education Committee in the last week in October. AASA submitted a letter in favor of the legislation despite the fact that it was a highly partisan legislative product. During the mark-up Republicans expressed strong opposition to the bill, criticizing its $400,000,000 price tag as well as the bill's emphasis on four-year degrees. Still, House Democrats succeeded in advancing H.R. 4674 out of the Education and Labor Committee on a vote that was split down party lines (28-22). At this point, the measure is headed to the House floor for a final vote before it can move to the Senate, which according to reports, Scott hopes occurs sometime before 2020. That said, it’s unlikely that the College Affordability Act will advance any further once it hits the Senate, considering that the upper chamber is still under the GOP's control, and the act is far too progressive for rank and file Republican Senators. Moreover, depending on how the impeachment inquiry proceeds, much of the political breath on Capitol Hill is expected to be spent on prosecuting or defending President Trump. Consequently, this will leave little time for legislative matters. That said, AASA will keep you abreast on all the latest higher ed updates, so stay tuned!

 

October 29, 2019

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AASA Offers Letter in Support of the College Affordability Act

Today, the House Education and Labor Committee marked-up the newly introduced College Affordability Act or H.R.4674. In response to the mark-up, AASA sent a letter of support in favor of the legislation to Chairman Bobby Scott and Ranking Member Virginia Foxx, who lead the Committee's work on higher Ed. You can view our position on the bill here.

October 24, 2019

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Education Funding Possibly Pushed to Spring

Reports from Congress are that Congressional leaders are coalescing around a decision to pass a continuing resolution (CR) that would push funding for the US. Department of Education until February or March of 2020. The time that may be required in both chambers to devote to impeachment proceedings is the main impetus for crafting a longer-term CR although negotiations are also said to be at a standstill because there is no agreement as to how to fund the President’s border wall. As Senator Shelby, who Chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said yesterday, “unless a miracle happens around here with the House and the Senate, we will have to come forth with another CR.” 

Multiple continuing resolutions is challenging for AASA members because it gives districts less time to plan for forthcoming funding for the 20-21 school year. Politically it is problematic as well because the temptation to pass a year-long CR (which is level funding) is higher the longer that funding bills are delayed. While many people describe a year-long CR as level funding it’s important to remember that a CR does not adjust for inflation so in reality it is a cut in terms of buying power. Given where we started this year with House Democrats recommending $1 billion in additional funding for both IDEA and Title I it would be really disappointing to end up with no funding increases for these key formula programs.  

 

 

October 23, 2019

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Best Practices for Identifying and Supporting High-Achieving Rural Students

This guest post was written by Jennifer Glynn, Ph.D. who is the Director of Research at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. 

 Almost one in five school children—some 9 million nationwide—live in rural areas. Many of these students have far fewer resources than their suburban counterparts and receive far less national attention than urban ones. At the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, we aim to change that, both by calling attention to the need to increase opportunities for rural students and by supporting programs that are leading the way in doing so. 

As highlighted in our new report, “Small Town, Big Talent,” rural students are both high achieving and underserved. They graduate from high school at rates above the national average, but are less likely than their peers elsewhere in the country to enroll in college immediately after graduation. This disconnect between K-12 and postsecondary achievement can disadvantage communities that often are struggling to attract and retain talent.

In our new report, we highlight promising practices and programs that can serve as models for expanding opportunities for academically talented students in rural America. To reach their full potential, academically talented students require advanced support, opportunities, and resources that far too many schools lack. Rural schools, with smaller enrollments and fewer resources, face additional challenges providing for their brightest students.

 Since 2012, the Cooke Foundation has supported educational enrichment in rural areas by awarding over $3.3 million in grants to outstanding organizations that support rural students in Alaska, Iowa, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. In 2017, the Foundation formalized our strategy for rural program support by establishing the Rural Talent Initiative grant program. This report draws on the deep experience of six grantees and findings from the research community to offer 14 recommendations of best practices for identifying promising rural students, providing them with academic services, and meeting the social and emotional needs of promising rural students.

 James Madison University’s Valley Scholars Program, for example, has learned that it’s critical to not only create local enrichment opportunities but to also widen students’ vision of what’s possible. They expose scholars to a wide range of college and career options and help them build social capital that doesn’t accrue naturally in sparsely populated areas. “Our goal is to support Valley Scholars in becoming leaders in their communities.” Shaun Mooney, director of the Valley Scholars Program, told us. “We are intentional about creating opportunities for learning inside and outside of their communities to expose them to new ideas, experiences, and people.”

All the organizations interviewed for the report also stressed the importance of recognizing that no two communities are the same. “When you know one rural area, you [only] know one rural area,” said Tamra Stambaugh, director of Vanderbilt University’s Programs for Talented Youth. Some rural communities are adjacent to outer suburbs, while others are hundreds of miles away from the nearest town or city. Some have differentiated economies, while others are dependent upon a single industry, such as farming, fishing, mining, logging, or tourism. All of those factors impact the resources and opportunities available to students.

Just as there is no one-size-fits-all solution for addressing need in urban schools, organizations must take a varied approach to increasing services for rural school children. We hope this report will inspire national organizations, educators, and federal and state policymakers—and provide much-needed guidance on how to deepen their work in rural communities. Ultimately, the entire nation will benefit from developing its young rural talent, and it is our intent for this report to serve as a useful blueprint to do so.

October 18, 2019

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Cat El Comment Period Extended Until Nov 1

In response to Chairman Bobby Scott's complaint that more than 500,000 students would lose their automatic eligibility for the school meals program because of a proposal from USDA that alters States' ability to implement Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility, Deputy Undersecretary Brandon Lipps was called to testify at a House Education and Labor Committee hearing earlier last week.  

During the hearing, Secretary Lipps was grilled by House DEMs for USDA's seemingly nefarious move to withhold its full regulatory impact analysis until the morning before the Wednesday hearing, which showed approximately 982,000 children would no longer be directly certified for free school meals based on their family's participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. While it is despicable that USDA informally misrepresented the number of impacted students when they rolled out the proposal in July, the good news for school districts is that we have until November 1st to weigh in on how the regulation will impact the public school system. AASA will be submitting comments in the coming weeks, and we strongly encourage you to join us in this effort. Take action now by copying and pasting this letter to the following link

 

 

October 16, 2019

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AASA Policy Priorities Advanced in Higher Education Rewrite

On Tuesday, the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, led by Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA), released its long-anticipated College Affordability Act, which offers Congress a pathway to comprehensively reauthorize the law governing the nation's higher education system. Similarly, to Chairman Scott's 2018 AIM Higher Act, the bill takes substantial steps towards improving the affordability of post-secondary programs for all students, while also delivering on a set of liberal lawmakers' higher-ed priorities.

As we reflected on the 1,000+ page text of the bill we kept AASA’s higher ed priorities as outlined in our 2019 Legislative Agenda in mind. They are:

  1. Support the preservation and expansion of resources for future and current teachers to address the teacher shortage issue
  2. Support programs that assist and develop students entering and completing college and postsecondary programs
  3. Reduce and simplify the paperwork and application requirements for FASFA
  4. Support the maintenance of the 2001 Title IX Guidance to ensure each and every student has a safe and healthy learning environment.
  5. Ensure flexibility of Pell grants to be available for students regardless of age or current school enrollment

After reviewing the bill we are pleased to report that all of our major policy priorities were well addressed in the Democratic proposal. A section by section analysis of the changes AASA was pushing for in the reauthorization is available below. Ultimately, even though House Dems have dramatically scaled back their higher-ed proposal compared to the 2020 presidential candidates, House Republicans are not likely to support this bill given the $400 billion price tag. Chairman Scott hopes to have a vote in Committee soon on the bill and bring it to floor, but given the stalemate in the Senate reauthorization prospects look dim. Regardless, this legislation contains all of AASA higher education priorities and is a good starting point for higher education negotiations on Capitol Hill.   

    Title II 

    • Under Title II of the Act, the bill reauthorizes and expands the Teacher Quality Partnership Grant program, which enables Institutes of Higher Education (IHE) and State Education Agencies (SEA) to partner with a high needs Local Education Agency (LEA) to create cohort-based teacher residency models that offer students clinical experience in school settings. Specifically, The Act expands the allowable use of TQP Grants to develop school leader preparation programs (e.g., superintendent and principal pipelines), and increases the authorized spending level of the program to $500,000,000.    
    • Title II of the College Affordability Act also enables TQP grantees to develop "Grow Your Own" partnerships between high-need LEAs and IHEs for recruiting and supporting diverse paraprofessionals and other non-teaching staff in gaining professional certifications to teach in their communities.   
    • Finally, the bill authorizes funding for competitive grant programs under Title II part B at $100,000,000 to support IHEs interested in the following activities: improving teacher and school leader preparation programs at minority-serving institutions; increasing the number of teacher prep programs that dually certify teachers for special education and English-language instruction; and advancing doctoral and fellow research on high-quality instruction in educator shortage areas (e.g., SPED and English Language Learners).  

    Title IV 

    • Under Title IV, lawmakers made significant changes to U.S. ED's administration of the TEACH Grant program. Specifically, the law improves technical aspects of the program by redirecting its aid to junior and senior teacher prep candidates and expanding the maximum award amount to $8,000 per year. Furthermore, the bill also addresses critiques of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which had been raised throughout this year. Specifically, lawmakers included language in the act to create one Income-Driven Repayment (IBR) plan, in an attempt to address the public's confusion about how to qualify for the program. House Dems also threw educators a win by streamlining the program so that teachers can count loan payments for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program at the same time as PSLF, thereby reducing the number of monthly payments needed towards PSLF.
    • The legislation also increases the authorized spending level for the TRIO and GEAR UP programs to $1.2B.   
    • To encourage students to earn college credits early, the legislation provides states with funding to increase student access to early credit pathways, including dual enrollment, early college high schools, and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs. It expands access to dual enrollment for high school students and improves the transferability of short-term credentials and college credits to give students’ a broader array of options. It also increases total Pell eligibility from 12 to 14 semesters and allows students to use unspent Pell dollars toward a graduate degree, empowering students to continue building their skills. 

     Title IX  

    • The bill directs the Secretary of Education to abandon the U.S. ED's regulatory efforts to weaken existing Title IX guidance to IHEs and LEAs. 
 

October 15, 2019

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EPA issues new regulations on testing for lead in schools

This week the EPA will be issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking that would change how communities test for lead in drinking water. It's the first major update to the Lead and Copper Rule in nearly 30 years. The proposal that was announced last Thursday would require water systems to keep a public inventory of where those lead service lines and utilities would also have to notify their customers within 24 hours.

 The proposal would indeed change when officials have to take action based on water tests, making regulations stricter. Currently, water systems are required to find and fix sources of lead when a sample in a home exceeds 15 parts per billion. The proposal would establish a lower “trigger level” of 10 ppb, “which would compel water systems to identify actions that would reduce lead levels in drinking water 

But of great significance to school district leaders, the new regulation would also require that community water systems (CWS) sample drinking water outlets at each school and each child care facility served by the system. The system would be required to provide the results to the school or child care facility and to provide information about the actions the school or child care facility can take to reduce lead in drinking water.

Under the proposal, each year, 20% of schools across the country would be tested resulting in all schools being tested every five years. Sample results and education materials must be provided to each sampled school/child care center. There is no requirement to test any schools or facilities built after January 1, 2014.

The Community Water Systems (CWS) would be required to provide information to districts about the health risks and sources of lead in drinking water, collect samples for lead at schools and child care facilities within its distribution system, and share that data with the facilities and health departments to raise awareness and increase knowledge about the risks and likelihood of the presence of lead in drinking water. Prior to conducting sampling, the CWS would send information to the school and child care facilities to notify them of their plans to perform sampling and to provide them with the 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water Toolkit. Under the proposal, a CWS would then be required to collect samples from five drinking water outlets at each school and two drinking water outlets at each child care facility served by the CWS. The CWS would be expected to complete sampling at all schools and child care facilities in its distribution system every five years. The samples would be first draw after at least 8 hours but not more than 18 hours stagnation of the building and be 250 ml in volume. The CWS would be required to provide each school and child care facility with the results of the samples taken in that facility. The CWS would be required to provide the sampling results as soon as practicable but no less than 30 days after receipt of the results. The CWS would also be required to provide the results for all samples collected in schools and child care facilities to the drinking water primacy agency and local health department where the school or child care facility is located. The CWS would not be required under this proposed rule for taking any remedial action at the school or child care facility following the sampling and notification requirements of this proposal. It would be up to the school district how they communicated the results of the lead testing to parents/guardians. For school districts in states that have already passed laws requiring lead testing, the EPA requirements would not be duplicative; instead, the State could waive school and child care facility sampling for individual to avoid duplication of effort. The only caveat is that the State must require CWSs to sample at all schools and child care facilities, or a program requiring schools and child care facilities to collect samples themselves, that is at least as stringent as the proposed EPA regulation.  States can also receive a partial waiver so as to avoid duplicating testing in schools or facilities that are required to be tested under state law.

AASA will be weighing in on the proposed regulation and encouraging superintendents to join them in responding to the regulation. Stay tuned for our forthcoming call-to-action. 

October 9, 2019

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New federal grants for mental health, school climate for districts

Yesterday, the Dept. of Education announced $71.6 million in new funding to improve student access to mental health resources and improve school climate. Three of the grants are available to districts. 

The Mental Health Demonstration Grant Program provides $11 million to 27 State education agencies and school districts to support innovative partnerships to train and deploy school-based mental health service providers in schools. The purpose is to expand the pipeline of high-quality, trained professionals to address shortages of mental health services in high-need schools and to provide supports that encompass social and emotional learning, mental wellness, resilience, and positive connections between students and adults.

Project Prevent provides more than $11.3 million to 15 school districts to increase their capacity to assist schools in communities with pervasive violence. These grants will enable schools to identify, assess, and serve students exposed to pervasive violence, provide mental health services for related trauma or anxiety, support conflict resolution programs, and implement other school-based violence prevention strategies in order to break the cycle of violence in these communities.

The School Climate Transformation Grant Program provides $42.4 million to 69 school districts to help develop, enhance, or expand systems of support for, and technical assistance to, schools implementing a multi-tiered system of support for improving school climate. The program focuses on supporting communities that may uniquely benefit from implementing a multi-tiered system of support, including districts serving rural areas and/or members of a federally recognized Tribe, and districts located in a Qualified Opportunity Zone.

 

 

October 8, 2019

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PEP Talk Episode 14: Crystal FitzSimons

We're back with the latest episode of PEP Talk, AASA's policy podcast. This week's episode features a conversation between Crystal FitzSimons, Director of School and Out-of-School Time Programs at the Food Research and Action Committee (FRAC) and AASA Policy Analyst Chris Rogers. In her current role, Crystal directs FRAC's work on the child nutrition programs that serve school-age children; and is responsible for advocating for legislative and regulatory improvements to the federal child nutrition programs. Check out our discussion to get the latest developments on the Categorical Eligibility program and hear updates from the Hill on child nutrition reauthorization.

October 7, 2019(1)

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October Advocate

Capitol Hill lawmakers continue to put the “fun” in dysfunctional as negotiations about how to fund the government for another year and whether to impeach the President leave little room for meaningful, bipartisan policymaking. As your eyes and ears on the Hill AASA is definitely concerned that unless the parties come together quickly we could see a shutdown or the passage of a continuing resolution for an entire year, which would mean that we would see no increases in critical formula programs between FY19 to FY20.

The reason a year-long CR is looking more likely is that Democrats and Republicans are too far apart on spending levels and cannot find a path forward when it comes to funding the President’s border wall.  The Senate’s Labor HHS Education spending bill for FY2020 is now stalled and may not move for a while. Two major problems are causing this situation: 1) the ban on “poison pill” riders that Congress agreed to in this summer’s budget deal; and 2) the very low allocations that the bill received to use for spending. The first issue blew-up in early September at the Labor HHS Education Appropriations Subcommittee mark-up for the FY2020 bill where Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) announced plans to introduce an amendment that Republicans claimed fell afoul of the agreed to ban on “poison pill” amendments. This caused the Subcommittee mark-up to be cancelled and the full Appropriations Committee mark-up, scheduled for later that week, to be cancelled subsequently.

The second issue came to a head when Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced an amendment in Committee that would have increased the 302(b) allocations for the Labor HHS Education bill. Senate Democrats have complained loudly that the current allocation (plus additional budgetary gimmicks) would equal only a 1% increase in available funding over last year. Additionally, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt’s (R-MO) decision to spend the vast majority of that 1% on increasing the National Institutes for Health by $3 billion has left little for appropriators to spend on other key education, health and labor programs. Leahy’s amendment failed on a party line vote.

Later in September Republicans unveiled their version of the FY2020 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill which would level-fund virtually all K-12 education programs, save for charter schools and Title IV in ESSA. Rather than trying to run it again through the normal committee process, Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) decided to bypass the Appropriations Committee entirely and move the bill to the floor, coupling it with the bills covering Defense, Energy and Water funding. According to media reports, he suggested that Democrats would have to agree to this move or run the risk of looking like they oppose defense programs. Despite that pressure, nearly all Democrats opposed a procedural vote to close debate and Shelby’s effort failed.

Upon seeing that there would not be a legitimate negotiation in the Senate, the House voted to pass a Continuing Resolution bill quickly, which the Senate passed the following week. The President signed the continuing resolution, which avoids a government shutdown and punts the funding deadline to November 21st to allow the two chambers and parties more time to figure out a way forward on funding. Given that the House Democrats passed bills proposing $1 billion in new money for both IDEA and Title I it would be a huge disappointment if we receive level funding for these critical funding streams next year because no agreement on funding levels can be reached.

That’s all the “fun”ding news for now! Follow us on twitter or check out the Leading Edge blog for additional updates.

 

 

October 7, 2019

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AASA files amicus brief in DACA case

AASA joined NSBA in filing a brief in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, ahead of a Supreme Court hearing next month on President Trump’s move to terminate it. We believe the Administration's decision would have severe ramifications and devastating costs for public education and the students it serves—impacting thousands of school districts and their communities. You can read the brief here

September 30, 2019

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GUEST POST: Advanced Placement: A low-key engine of school renewal

With Congress in recess we are giving you a break from our usual Hill-related content and sharing a great read from our friends Chester E. Finn, Jr. & Andrew E. Scanlan at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. 

The glum news that average SAT scores dropped again this year finds the College Board again trying to explain that the fall is due to more and more diverse students taking these tests. That may be partly true but it doesn’t solve the problem of under preparedness for what follow high school. Nor is SAT necessarily the best gauge to use. While its scores signal that a student is (or isn’t) ready to enter college, the Advanced Placement (AP) program, also run by the College Board, helps students master college-level courses before they even get there. 

Six decades old and now engaging nearly three million students who sit for some five million exams every year, AP has quietly worked its way into the offerings of most U.S. public and private high schools, the policies of many states and districts, the admissions and placement decisions of hundreds of universities, the educational aspirations of countless families, and the academic programs of innumerable college students. As we explore in our new book, Learning in the Fast Lane: The Past, Present and Future of Advanced Placement, preparing these young people to succeed on the tests (scored from 1 to 5, with 3 or better deemed “qualifying”) is a major objective for teachers, students, and families, as well as education leaders who view a robust AP program as a key component of a topflight school system.

District and school leaders have plenty of reasons to offer AP and encourage more young people to take its courses. But what makes AP stand out from all the other reforms, interventions, and silver bullets, including such competitors as dual credit? We count four big advantages in embracing AP.

First, its successful completion yields tangible benefits for the young people who participate, particularly those who also score at least a 3 on the exams. Achieving such a “qualifying score” gives youngsters a good shot at arriving in college with credit already established and/or waiving out of boring freshmen courses—possibly earning their degrees faster and cheaper. Participants gain valuable study skills and may get a welcome boost in their admissions odds, perhaps including better colleges than they would otherwise have applied to. Its courses are also an antidote to senior-year boredom, a source of stimulation and rigor for high-achieving students, and a source of confidence that yes, one is indeed “college material.”

Second, many teachers find valuable colleagueship, professional development, and intellectual stimulation from a nationwide AP network that includes peers in thousands of schools as well as university professors. They get together in June to score the exams; they take part in week-long summer workshops; and their participation in lively virtual networks offers myriad ways to compare notes, pick up tips, borrow lesson plans, and get suggestions for additional research by students who want to dig deeper. It’s not unusual to hear teachers say that an AP workshop rejuvenated and enhanced their work as educators and some go back again and again.

Third, Advanced Placement is private, run by the non-profit, non-partisan College Board and thus largely immune to political infighting. It’s not imposed by the federal or state government, and many superintendents and principals have come to view it as an effective tool for improving education at the system and building levels—a toning up effect on entire high schools that, if well-orchestrated, may trigger improvements in “feeder” middle schools as well. Besides better serving smart kids and conferring additional curricular choices, it contributes to raising academic standards and rigor; attracting and retaining eager, knowledgeable teachers; and developing curricula and assessments that can be compared across districts and states. Above all, AP has become a serious player in the national effort to enhance educational opportunities—and a real booster rocket for disadvantaged youngsters.

Fourth, Advanced Placement has always included an external exam that’s anonymously scored and it has successfully maintained a “gold standard” of rigor even as it comes closer than anything else to a high-quality national curriculum at the high-school level. Its expectations are the same in rural Kansas as in the suburbs of Boston. Indeed, the most oft-heard response of politicians is, “We want more of it in more schools and we want more kids to participate in it.” Yet politicians have essentially no role in what it teaches, how it tests, or who scores what.

 We heard time and time again from superintendents and principals that a well-functioning AP program can be an engine of high-school improvement that raises expectations among staff, students, and families. But that doesn’t make it easy to maintain a robust AP program in one’s school or district. Much else needs to be aligned, perhaps above all a culture of inclusion, rigor, and academic seriousness, plus stable, committed leadership and eager, well-prepared teachers. Even then, it’s far easier to offer the courses than to help kids prepare to ace the May exams—a challenge that’s intensified if middle schools are lacking and youngsters’ outside lives are fraught.

 Going big on AP also poses resource trade-offs and priority issues for schools and districts. Should they instead do more for low achievers? Upgrade their CTE offerings rather than trying to boost more kids into college? Focus on dual credit instead? Can they muster the human resources to do AP well, including teacher buy-in and committed school leadership? Mandates from the superintendent set the wheels in motion but it takes plenty more to ensure swift and responsive movement on the ground.

 Fortunately, experienced outside organizations can help implant a successful AP program, particularly in high schools serving poor and minority youngsters. Groups such as the National Math and Science Initiative, Equal Opportunity Schools, and MassInsight Education have excellent track records working with school leaders, developing teachers, raising expectations, encouraging more kids to join in, and helping them to succeed. Often supported by a mix of private philanthropy and district resources, they can be great allies—as evidenced in several case studies of AP expansion efforts that we describe in the book.

Advanced Placement is more than college-level courses during high school: It can equalize opportunities and narrow the “excellence gap”; strengthen the country’s human capital and future competitiveness; and create upward mobility for able young people from disadvantaged circumstances while challenging high-ability youngsters from every sort of background. That’s a rare success story in the annals of education reform—and we need all of those we can get. 

Finn is a distinguished senior fellow and president emeritus at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Scanlan is a research and policy associate at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

September 27, 2019

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Piecemeal HEA Reauthorization

This week Sen. Lamar Alexander released his priorities for a piecemeal Higher Education Reauthorization Act (HEA) that would simplify the FAFSA application form; allow incarcerated individuals who are eligible for parole to use a Pell grant for prison-education programs; extend Pell grants funds to short-term high-quality job training programs; and increase the maximum Pell grant award. Thus, finally providing the rest of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee with a framework for his long-awaited HEA bill, which he is desperate to pass before his retirement in 2020. Unfortunately for the Tennessee Republican, the piecemeal HEA falls short of the comprehensive reauthorization that many were expecting from the veteran Senator. In response to his proposal, Ranking Member Patty Murray of Senate HELP reiterated her stance that she is against passing legislation that falls short of a comprehensive reauthorization of higher ed law. 

While it may seem like the parties are still at an impasse, Alexander is now pushing a last ditch effort that would attach his HEA priorities with a separate $255 million bipartisan funding bill for historically black colleges and other minority-serving institutions in an attempt to bypass negotiations with Senate Dems. If Alexander decides to implement this plan, he will likely get a cold reception from House Democrats who are also against a small HEA reauthorization. Regardless of what happens next, AASA will keep you abreast of any new developments.

 
 

September 24, 2019(2)

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New Guide on District Emergency Operations Planning

This week, the U.S. Department of Education, along with the U.S. Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services, released a new planning guide to help districts support schools developing and maintaining customized emergency operations plans (EOPs). The Role of Districts in Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans (District Guide) delivers on an interagency recommendation from the Federal Commission on School Safety's final report to provide resources to assist schools and school districts in developing customized school EOPs with their community partners, such as first responders.

September 24, 2019(1)

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End of Comment Period for Cat El Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

Yesterday, was the final closing date to submit comments to USDA’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on revisions to Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (Cat El) in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Thank you to everyone that participated in the call-to-action. If you missed your final opportunity to weigh in on the importance of Cat El, don’t worry, AASA submitted comments to USDA requesting that the agency rescind its proposal and protect the more than 500,000 students who stand to lose their free and reduced-priced lunch designation as a result of the rule. To view the letter, click here.
 
Now that the comment period is over, it's USDA's Food Nutritional Services Agency's turn to review comments from the public and respond accordingly. No matter what happens next, we will update you on USDA's final decision and what it means for public schools.
 

September 24, 2019

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AASA Supports Bipartisan Safety Clearinghouse

AASA is pleased to endorse bipartisan legislation in the Senate that would establish a federally-funded and housed information clearinghouse detailing best practices for school security and design. As a result of the STOP School Violence Act, many school districts now have access to state and federal funding to improve school security. The School Safety Clearinghouse Act would allow districts to make informed decisions about how to implement this funding.

The clearinghouse would be managed by the Department of Homeland Security and include recommendations from engineers, architects, first responders, building security experts, and mental health advocates. It would not advocate for specific technologies or tools or impose any mandates on school districts.  

The legislation follows the Federal Commission on School Safety’s December 2018 recommendation of a federal clearinghouse to assess, identify, and share information on school security technology and innovation and was also recommended by AASA as part of its work with the Federal Commission. 

AASA's Executive Director, Dan Domenech, had this to say about the bill: "AASA is pleased to see Congress take this critical step to fund and house a clearinghouse providing superintendents the ability to access unbiased information about how to construct and maintain safe and secure school buildings. Creating a one-stop shop for school safety building design is exactly the kind of work that the federal government is well positioned to do to enhance school safety.” 

 

September 23, 2019(2)

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Important New Webinar on Educating Undocumented Students

 On Friday, October. 18 at 2 pm ET, AASA will host a webinar featuring Maree Sneed and Ray Li, attorneys at Hogan Lovells LLP. Their presentation will cover the rights of undocumented students and the challenges that they face. Specifically, they will address the legal landscape around how schools should responsibly handle campus access for immigration and law enforcement officials and how school officials should respond to information requests from immigration officials. 

The webinar will also feature Superintendent Todd Morrison from Honey Grove Texas who made headlines when he acted to support students after his small district was impacted by an ICE raid. He will share what he has learned from leading through this crisis and offer advice about what other superintendents can do to help immigrant students during this difficult time. Please click here to register for the event. 

  

September 23, 2019(1)

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Quick Approps Update - Labor-HHS-Ed in Trouble!

The Senate L-HHS-ED appropriations process has broken down due to disagreements about what constitutes a "poison pill," how to pay for the President's border wall and what are acceptable levels of funding for Labor-HHS-Education given the agreed upon $27 billion increase to non-defense discretionary spending earlier this summer. Specific to education, Senate Republicans have proposed level funding for Title I and IDEA which is in sharp contrast to the $1 billion increase for IDEA and $1 billion for Title I that was in the House Democrat passed appropriations bill. Recognizing the reality that none of the 12 government funding bills will be enacted before current funding runs out on September 30, the House passed a continuing resolution this week that the Senate is likely to consider next week to kick the can down the road until mid-November. It's very unclear how both sides are going to come to an agreement between now and then on these sticky funding and political issues. 

 

September 23, 2019

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DeVos Issues New Clarification Dual Enrollment for SWD

Secretary Betsy DeVos issued a policy document clarifying that vocational rehabilitation (VR) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funds can be used to support dual enrollment, comprehensive transition and other post-secondary education programs for students and youth with disabilities. This was issued in response to questions from the field as there was confusion about whether and when these funds could be used to help students and youth with disabilities access these valuable educational options.

Specifically, the Q&A addresses the following topics:

  • The opportunity for students with disabilities to enroll in postsecondary education programs while still in high school;
  • The opportunity for students and youth with disabilities to enroll in comprehensive transition and other postsecondary programs for individuals with disabilities after leaving high school;
  • The coordination of transition-related services that students with disabilities may receive under the IDEA and under the VR program; and
  • The financial aid available to students with disabilities enrolled in comprehensive transition and postsecondary education programs for students with intellectual disabilities offered at Institutions of Higher Education under the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended.

The full Q&A is available here: Link

September 13, 2019

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FY 2020 Approps Update

Congress has until September 30 to finish its appropriations process, but the Senate L-HHS-ED appropriations process has broken down and we will likely see a continuing resolution (CR), lasting until November, move forward in both chambers. On the Senate side, whatever money is allocated for our slice of the pie will be quite low as the Senate is moving a lot of money to pay for the border wall and the President's other homeland security priorities. Specifically, GOP leaders are only proposing a roughly 1 percent boost over fiscal 2019 levels for the Labor-HHS-Education pot despite the fact that the budget deal signed into law last month provides for a more than 4 percent overall increase for non-defense programs. Consequently, the rumor mill is indicating that we may receive level funding for IDEA and Title I. This is in sharp contrast to the $1 billion increase for IDEA that was in the House-passed appropriations bill (which was the largest increase to the program in more than a decade). Because the Senate cannot come to an agreement the House is already working on a draft CR that they may vote on as early as next week.

The one bright spot on funding is that there may be a mark-up of the IDEA full funding bill in the House Education & Labor Committee this year. With over 100 cosponsors for the bill there is increasing pressure for Chairman Scott to hold a vote on the bill. There is currently a Dear Colleague letter being circulated urging members of Congress to ask Chairman Scott to mark up the bill. If your interested in learning more please reach out to Sasha (spudelski@aasa.org).

September 6, 2019

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The Advocate: September 2019

Every month, the AASA policy and advocacy team writes an article that is shared with our state association executive directors, which they can run in their state newsletters, a way to build a direct link not only between AASA and our affiliates, but also AASA advocacy and our superintendents. The article is called The Advocate, and here is the September 2019 edition.

Earlier this summer, USDA released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would limit states’ ability to implement Broad-based Categorical Eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – which provides eligible low-income households with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card that can be used at authorized grocery stores. Under current law, families may become SNAP-eligible by either (1) meeting program-specific federal eligibility requirements, or (2) being deemed automatic or “categorically" eligible for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grant (TANF).

Originally, TANF was designed as a broad-purposed block grant to finance a wide range of social welfare activities, including government-subsidized employment, childcare and cash. By automatically enrolling TANF eligible households in SNAP, the Categorical Eligibility (Cat El) program enabled states to support families on the cusp of the federal poverty line through short-term financial crises by ensuring their continued access to food security. Cat El also benefited schools by making TANF students automatically eligible for free and reduced priced lunch.

The effect of this change on students and schools will be immense, as many families will no longer be eligible to receive free and reduced priced breakfast and lunch if the regulation passes. According to early estimates from Food Nutritional Service, more than 500,000 students will lose their automatic eligibility for free school meals as a result of the change.

Additionally, by limiting states' ability to confer Categorical Eligibility to TANF families, the NPRM could hurt schools’ Title I Funding. Under the new regulation, fewer students will be eligible to receive the FRPL designation, which is one of the key metrics the U.S. Department of Education uses to allocate funding. Thus, the NPRM presents us with a double whammy scenario that will hurt the federal school meals and Title I programs. 

Cat El policies have been in place for more than two decades. Although House Republicans tried to gut the program during the 2011 Reauthorization of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, Congress has overwhelmingly rejected efforts to make Cat El more restrictive, including during its consideration of the 2005 budget reconciliation and the 2018 Farm Bill. This USDA rulemaking is an attempt to sidestep Congress and is outside of USDA’s authority.   

Remember, in 2019 we're asking all our members to take their advocacy up to the next level. Here is your chance to let USDA know that this is unacceptable. Comments must be filed on or before September 23. To help broadcast the importance of Cat El for students and schools, you can file comments by copying and pasting this letter to the following link! If you're looking for something shorter, feel free to copy and paste an abridged template for filing comments here

August 19, 2019(1)

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August Advocacy: Forest Counties!

The strategy with forest counties remains two fold: In addition to our almost annual push to secure funding for the program, we are now also engaged in a long-term strategy, one that would overhaul the program and structure it as a trust, removing it from the rough annual cycle of securing federal appropriations. You'll recall that we had the long-term proposal introduced at the end of the 115th Congress, and the same legislation was introduced in a bipartisan manner earlier this month. Ask your senators and representative to support S.1643 as part of your advocacy outreach on forest counties. Specific to the annual appropriations effort, forest counties were not funded in FY19. Meanwhile, FY20 negotiations to date also fail to fund the program. It is imperative Congress includes funding for forest counties in the final FY20 appropriations package and that it includes retroactive funding for FY19 as well.

Check out our handy one pager, thanks to the Forest Counties coalition. 

August 19, 2019

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PEP Talk Episode 13: Donors Choose (Crowd Funding in Education)

In the latest episode of PEP Talk, Noelle Ellerson Ng talks with Katie Bisbee and Anna Edwards of Donors Choose

All episodes of PEP Talk can be found here

In addition to talking crowd funding, check out the resources and information specific to rural schools: 

As more schools tap into crowdfunding to provide innovative resources and learning opportunities for their students, administrators in rural districts might feel left out. Since traditional crowdfunding usually only generates donations from a teacher’s personal network or the local community, it may seem impossible for rural schools with a smaller footprint to have the same funding success as schools in large metropolitan areas. But not all crowdfunding is made equal, and thanks to charities like DonorsChoose.org that help schools secure funding from donors across the nation, rural districts stand to benefit just as much as their urban peers. Read more about how you can help your district.  

August 15, 2019(1)

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Call to Action: Support Categorical Eligibility

Earlier this summer, USDA released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would limit states’ability to implement Broad-based Categorical Eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – which provides eligible low-income households with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card that can be used at authorized grocery stores. Under current law, families may become SNAP-eligible by either (1) meeting program-specific federal eligibility requirements, or (2) being deemed automatic or “categorically" eligible for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grant (TANF).

Originally, TANF was designed as a broad-purposed block grant to finance a wide range of social welfare activities, including government-subsidized employment, childcare, and cash. By automatically enrolling TANF eligible households in SNAP, the Categorical Eligibility (Cat El) program enabled states to support families on the cusp of the federal poverty line through short-term financial crises by ensuring their continued access to food security. Cat El also benefited schools by making TANF students automatically eligible for Free and Reduced Priced Lunch. 

The proposed rule by USDA is slated to have the following effects: 

  1. It will require TANF recipients to receive aid for 6-months or more before determining whether a household is eligible to receive SNAP benefits; 
  2. The rule will limit types of non-cash TANF benefits conferring categorical eligibility to those that focus on subsidized employment; and 
  3. The change will require state agencies to inform the Food Nutritional Service of all non-cash TANF benefits that confer categorical eligibility.  

If passed, the Cat El rule will hurt students by taking away food security from thousands of TANF households and creating a more onerous application process for families trying to receive SNAP benefits. For schools, the consequences of the rule will be felt immediately, as more than 500,000 students will no longer qualify for free school meals. Moreover, approximately 3.1 million families will lose their SNAP benefits. 

Remember, in 2019 we're asking all our members to take their advocacy up to the next level. Here is your chance to let USDA know that this is unacceptable. Comments must be filed on or before September 23rd. To help broadcast the importance of Cat El for students and schools you can file comments by copying and pasting this letter to the following link! If you're looking for something shorter, feel free to copy and paste an abridged template for filing comments here.

 

August 15, 2019

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New Public Charge Regulation Will Impact School District Finances

Last December, AASA and many individual superintendents weighed in on a Department of Homeland Security regulation that would change the definition of who is considered a “public charge” for immigration purposes. We argued that the proposed regulation put the health and well-being of millions of immigrant children at risk and could place new burdens on school districts to provide health and nutrition related services for children who qualify for these benefits through federal programs.

Despite AASA’s objections, today the final regulation was finalized and it will be effective on October 15th. As children head back to school it is important that school leaders anticipate that some of the budgeting they have done for this school year could be impacted by the regulation. To be clear: this regulation only impacts families who are here legally. To put a pin on this, nearly 19 million, or 25% of children, had an immigrant parent as of 2017, and the large majority of these children were citizens. About 10 million, or 13%, were citizen children with a noncitizen parent. This is going to impact a lot of kids.

Specifically, for districts with large numbers of immigrant families, it may be considerably more difficult to get consent for the district to bill Medicaid as a result of the regulation. Here’s why: the regulation says that if a parent accesses Medicaid more than two times than their pathway to citizenship may be denied. The regulation specifically says that a child who accesses Medicaid via school-based services (whether IDEA eligible or not) would not have that access held against them, but since districts must obtain consent from parents to bill Medicaid there is a deep concern that parents will not give consent either because they are skeptical that it will not impact their family negatively or because they juts don’t want to wish entangling anyone in their family in the Medicaid system. The financial repercussions for districts are obvious: money district leaders are expecting to be reimbursed via Medicaid will not be there and you’ll have to dip into local dollars to pay for professionals and services that Medicaid should totally cover or just stop offering some of the non-IDEA healthcare services you provide to children if those are optional.

On the nutrition side, the regulation directly targets kids. If a child accesses SNAP (as well as their parent) their access to this federal benefit would hinder their ability to become citizens. This is absolutely crazy. A child cannot support themselves financially and if they need access to food it should not be held against them if they wish to become a U.S. citizen. This aspect of the regulation that impacts children and adults alike is intentionally directed to reduce access to food supports for legally present immigrant families. It will lead to intensive food insecurity for children and schools will have more kids coming to school with unmet nutritional needs who are not ready to learn. Districts can, of course, try and pick up the pieces by sending food home to families and operating their own food banks, but this costs money that many districts don’t have to spare. Start thinking about how you’re going to handle this issue locally.

On the housing side district leaders should anticipate an uptick in the number of children qualifying for McKinney Vento services and needing transportation. The regulation states that reliance on Section 8 Housing Vouchers will be held against an adult who wants to become a legal permanent resident of the U.S. Of course children benefit by having access to stable housing and when families forego this housing benefit then children lose their access to a stable home, so this will directly harm children. However, district leaders need to be anticipate that transportation costs they previously budgeted for may be insufficient as a result of the uptick in children who are moving away from housing developments and are in shelters or in other housing situations that are less stable. District leaders are responsible for the educational stability of these children as families seek other affordable housing options and must respond accordingly if more students qualify for McKinney Vento services.  

All in all, this regulation can be summarized a deeply flawed policy that will exacerbate the needs of our nation’s youngest and most vulnerable. This rule, as released today, will have a devastating impact on the children that we educate and the school district budgets we manage.

 

 

July 29, 2019

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Guest Blog Post: Of Schools, Busing, Integration and Outdated Federal Policy

Today's guest blog post is published in coordination with the latest episode of the AASA PEP Talk podcast, which focuses on an arcane provision in federal policy--an outdated anti-busing provision that continues to exist merely because Congress hasn't erased it. The guests on the podcast penned this related blog post, and we are happy to share it here with you:

by Philip Tegeler, Executive Director, Poverty & Race Research Action Council; and Sunil Mansukhani, Principal, The Raben Group

Few expected busing to be a major issue during the June 27 Democratic debate.  The spirited exchange between Senator Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden was unexpected by just about everyone, since this issue has largely been considered to be a relic of a bygone era.  However, some of this past history still stubbornly lurks in federal legislation to this day, in the form of harmful federal restrictions that prevent school districts from using federal funds for transportation for school integration purposes.  Such a restriction handcuffs school districts at a time when cross-racial understanding is more important than ever.

Until the beginning of this fiscal year, there were two provisions in federal appropriations laws that contained this ban.  Thus, a school district that wanted to voluntarily take steps to counter increasing racial segregation would not be able to use federal money to help pay for the transportation that would inevitably be needed.  For over 40 years, these two provisions were re-authorized without much discussion.  Yet, when the National Coalition on School Diversity (NCSD) brought these provisions to the attention of Congress a couple of years ago, no one could give a reason for their continued presence today.

We are delighted to report that Congress finally removed these appropriations provisions at the beginning of this fiscal year.  Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there.  There is a similar provision (Section 426) in the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA) that has also been on the books for over 40 years.  GEPA is a law which governs the Department of Education.  Again, no credible reason for keeping Section 426 has been presented.  Inertia can be a formidable opponent to progress. 

This archaic provision could be removed at no cost to the federal government.  Furthermore, removing Section 426 would provide school districts with greater flexibility to choose how to best allocate their federal funds for the benefit of their communities.  Removing Section 426 of GEPA should be, and is, achievable.  Allowing school districts to have more flexibility in how they spend federal funds is something that we can all agree on.

Ongoing research at Penn State’s Center for Education and Civil Rights (CECR) demonstrates that transportation remains central to school integration efforts in districts across the country.  Specifically, CECR’s research included public K-12 districts who confirmed with CECR that they are actively implementing a formal voluntary (i.e., not court ordered) integration plan.  A recent CECR report revealed that 59 school districts across the country, which collectively serve about 3.7 million students, are voluntarily pursuing school integration plans.

As CECR’s research indicates, removing Section 426 would have an immediate impact on school integration efforts that are happening now.  Most notably, it would make federal funds available for student transportation for the four most common methods of contemporary school integration - magnet schools, attendance zone boundary changes, controlled choice, and student transfers. Transportation is crucial as NCSD research has shown how school choice relies upon proactive measures like free transportation to be an effective tool in promoting equity.

In addition to the school districts identified by CECR’s research, numerous other districts could benefit from repealing Section 426, including those that engage in inter-district integration programs, those districts whose Magnet School Assistance Program (MSAP) funds are ending, school districts that have magnet schools but do not receive MSAP funds, and the approximately 150-200 districts that are currently under a court order to desegregate.  In the “The State of Integration in 2018,” the NCSD describes these, and other, forms of school integration underway across the country.  Organized in short state-level summaries, the report describes many efforts that could be accelerated with repeal of Section 426, such as New York state’s Every Student Succeeds Act state plan, which affirms the use of federal Title I funds “to support the efforts of districts to increase diversity and reduce socioeconomic and racial/ethnic isolation.”

In addition to supporting existing efforts, repealing Section 426 may lead more districts to pursue new school integration efforts.  As a follow up to the CECR report described above, CECR researchers have conducted case study interviews with leaders in a select number of districts.  Although conclusive findings from this work are not yet available, a clear theme is evident across interviews.  As detailed on CECR’s blog, district leaders are confused about what forms of integration are acceptable and are fearful that their plans may attract a legal challenge.  By removing a key barrier and clarifying what is legally permissible, repealing Section 426 will help open the doors to additional district efforts to pursue integration.

We urge you to call your senators and House member to request this harmful provision be removed from GEPA.  The United States Capitol switchboard can be reached at (202) 224-3121. It is time for Section 426 to go.  

FOOTNOTE: 

 

  1. The National Coalition on School Diversity is a growing network of civil rights organizations, university-based research centers, and state and local coalitions working to support government policies that promote school diversity and reduce racial isolation. NCSD also support the work of state and local school diversity practitioners.
  2. There is an exception to GEPA Section 426 in the MSAP program.

 

July 22, 2019

(E-RATE, ADVOCACY TOOLS) Permanent link

UPDATED: AASA E-Rate Call to Action: File Reply Comments with the FCC, Protect E-Rate!

This blog post was updated to reflect that the initial comment period closed July 29 but that superintendents and educators can (and should!) continue to file reply comments until the extended August 26 deadline. 

BACKGROUND: Earlier this summer, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) related to the schools and libraries program, known as E-Rate. In the NPRM, the republican FCC Commissioners pose and consider setting an overall cap for the programs financed under the Universal Service Fund (USF). As a reminder, the USF is a system of telecommunications subsidies and fees designed to promote and expand universal access to telecommunications in the US. It is authorized by the Telecommunications Act and was created to support and serve four distinct programs: schools and libraries (E-Rate), rural health care, lifeline, and Connect America Fund. Full details on the blog

NOW IS THE TIME FOR ACTION. Our goal in mobilizing the AASA membership is to create a groundswell of feedback from the field, highlighting for the FCC not only the importance of E-Rate, but also how their proposed changes threaten E-Rate and what those changes will mean for your schools. We need all hands on deck, and we need as many comments filed as possible. Here's what you can do: 

  • Call to Action: While it is good that national organizations have weighed in individually and collectively, it is even more important that state associations, independent districts and other non-profits reiterate their concern for protecting E-Rate. Help us clarify that the E-Rate program is a successful program that has proven critical in the extensive expansion of connectivity for schools and libraries across the nation. Help us clarify that E-Rate is important in supporting school and library access to online resources and communication and collaboration. Help us highlight why the proposed funding caps to USF and its specific programs are short sighted policy that will undermine the ability of schools to continue to address growing connectivity needs. Reply comments are due by August 26. Instructions on how to file your comments are included below.
  • Background and AASA Summary: Available here
  • How to File Comments 
    • HOW AND WHERE: You can file directly with the FCC OR email your comments to AASA staff and have them submitted for you. Full directions are below. 
    • WHEN: Reply comments are due August 26. Reply comments matter; the priority is on getting as many school district comments filed as possible. 
    • File Comments with the FCC
      • COMMENTS ARE DUE August 26. 
      • Draft your response comments. You can refer to the AASA summary/background document, create your own comments and/or work from AASA’s template. Format your response as a Word/PDF document (include district letter head!).
      • Go to https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings
      • For the Proceeding Number, enter the following proceeding numbers: 06-122
      • Complete the rest of the information on the form.
      • Upload your comments at the bottom of the form. 
       
    • File Comments with AASA staff: If you are pressed for time or need help submitting the comments, AASA staff can submit them on your behalf. 
      • For August 26 Comments: Please email Noelle Ellerson Ng (nellerson at aasa.org) your final comments no later than 5 pm ET on Wednesday August 21 with the subject line ‘Please file E-Rate comments.’  
       
      Questions? Email Noelle Ellerson Ng (nellerson@aasa.org)
     

July 9, 2019(1)

 Permanent link

The Advocate (July 2019)

Every month, the AASA advocacy team writes an article that is shared with our state association executive directors, which they can run in their state newsletters, a way to build a direct link not only between AASA and our affiliates, but also AASA advocacy and our superintendents. The article is called The Advocate, and here is the July 2019 piece:

July in Washington, D.C. means one thing (and I am not talking about the humidity!). It means the annual AASA Legislative Advocacy Conference. As I write this, we are just five days away from our joint conference with the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO), and we expect nearly  250 school superintendents and school business officials to be in DC to weigh in on federal policy and help Congress understand how to ensure their policy priorities and proposals are written in such a way so as to prioritize and strengthen public education.

Attendees will split time between professional development and preparation for Capitol Hill visits with time on the Hill, meeting with their federal delegations. The policy priorities at this year's conference—including the talking points and content handed out in the conference folder—include Medicaid in Schools, Infrastructure, E-Rate, annual appropriations, school nutrition, higher education act, forest counties and IDEA full funding. Featured speakers include FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, U.S. and U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and VanHollen (D-MD). Panel topics include school finance and funding formulas, Census 2020 and schools, immigration and schools, and an overview of federal regulations and Supreme Court decisions, among others. If you can't be here, we'll miss you, and hope that you can consider joining us next year.

Related to that, I wanted to share our 2019 advocacy challenge: can we ask our members—and then support them in their efforts—to increase their level of AASA advocacy engagement ONE level? I'm listing various ways for you to engage, below, and these are all in addition to reaching out to us directly. (And by 'us', I mean your AASA advocacy team. I've listed our names, titles, email addresses and Twitter handles at the bottom of the article.) 

  • Brand New to Federal Advocacy? Sign up for our advocacy network. Our advocacy department offers a variety of ways to stay engaged. If you subscribe to our advocacy network, you will automatically receive our weekly and monthly updates, as well as Calls to Action (the most efficient way to directly engage when we need superintendents to contact members of Congress or a federal agency). You can sign up by emailing Chris Rogers, our policy analyst at crogers@aasa.org. 
  • Follow our blog and podcast: These sources often overlap with the newsletters and include everything from the latest reports and links to good news articles, as well as quick updates on the Hill and ways for you to engage with advocacy. Our blog is The Leading Edge, and our podcast is Public Education Policy (PEP) Talk.
  • Engage with AASA Advocacy at the National Conference on Education (NCE): We always offer five-to-six policy-related sessions at NCE and host a formal federal relations luncheon with a keynote speaker. It's a great way to integrate your advocacy learning and professional development while already on the ground. We look forward to seeing you in San Diego.
  • Join the AASA Advocacy Community: Launched officially during the AASA advocacy conference, this is a one stop shop for the latest AASA advocacy update, full index of all AASA advocacy communications, and a forum to connect and discuss education policies and AASA priorities with other edu-advocates.
    • We’re created a new space for members involved in AASA advocacy efforts to connect, learn and share resources all in one place. Our goal is to bring together the voices and talents of educators with a passion for advocacy at local, state and the national levels under one umbrella. To achieve that goal, our advocacy team will be actively involved in the community, contributing content, loading and linking resources and responding to any questions, comments, and concerns posted. 
    • If you’re ready to get started, please log in to the community using the details below and then take a few of the suggested actions! 
    • Log in with your AASA membership username and password at http://connect.aasa.org. If you don't know your username it should be the email address associated with your AASA membership and the password can be reset if needed (just click forgot password on the sign-in screen). Please contact membership@aasa.org if you require additional assistance signing in. 
  •  Here are a few options for getting started in the platform: 
    • Visit the AASA Advocacy Network community and introduce yourself in the discussion thread that has been started. 
    • Access the Leadership Portfolio page to update your info. 
    • Upload your profile photo and update fields such as bio and job history. You may also import information directly from LinkedIn.
    • Join other communities which speak to your interests, and don't worry, there are many more communities to come. 
    • Update your Community subscriptions, establish notification overrides, and create Consolidated Digests, click on 'Notifications' in the upper left corner of the Online Community to update your preferences.
    • For help you may refer to the FAQ section at https://connect.aasa.org/participate/faq.
  • Save the Date for our 2020 Advocacy Conference: Join us NEXT July 7-9, as we wrap up the 116th Congress and head into the final push of the 2020 presidential elections. We have no way of knowing what education policy discussions will be dominating our work, but we do know that your voice, participation and support matter.
  • Commit to Making Regular Contact with Your Congressional Delegation: Can you do it once a month? Or, let's just start with once a quarter! If you can make that commitment, we can fully support that. Let us know when you want to make contact, and if you have a specific topic in mind. We can send you the name and email address of the appropriate education staffer. We are happy to provide any background information or talking points you may need in crafting your message. 
  • Contact Your AASA Advocacy Team: It is an explicit member benefit of belonging to both your state association and AASA that you have access to our advocacy team. Our job is to represent your priorities in all aspects of federal advocacy and to support you in your advocacy teams. Think of us as an extension of your administrative team, and never hesitate to reach out: 
    • Noelle Ellerson Ng, Associate Executive Director, Policy & Advocacy, nellerson@aasa.org (@Noellerson)
    • Sasha Pudelski, Advocacy Director, spudelski@aasa.org (@SPudelski) Please note that Sasha is out on maternity leave until early August.
    • Chris Rogers, Policy Analyst, crogers@aasa.org (@CXRogers16) 

July 9, 2019

(IDEA, E-RATE, SCHOOL NUTRITION, ADVOCACY TOOLS, ED FUNDING) Permanent link

2019 Legislative Advocacy Conference Resources

It is our sincere hope that you are enjoying your time at the conference. As promised, here are the slides, handouts and resources we owe you. If  there is anything missing, we will update this blog post accordingly! 

July 2, 2019

(E-RATE, ADVOCACY TOOLS, ED TECH) Permanent link

AASA and AESA File Joint Comments in Response to FCC Petition to Rulemaking

In our weekly legislative corps, we mentioned a pending item at the FCC related to E-Rate applications in Texas. In a nutshell: In late June,  a handful of education service center administrators from Texas was in town to meet with staff in three different offices at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in response to a petition for rulemaking related to E-Rate. This is a narrow lane of advocacy for a Texas-specific issue for now but could have broader federal implications. The meetings were focused on highlighting how the E-Rate applications under question were fully compliant with E-Rate and state/local procurement requirements, were responding to policy incentives built into the 2014 modernization, built on the long-standing premise of competition and market forces and pricing, and that the petitioners (providers) making the motion are looking to use federal policy as a bandaid, a remedy for them not receiving federal funds for an RFP to which they did not respond/receive a bid. 

As follow up to those meetings, AASA partnered with AESA to file a detailed response to the petition for rulemaking, providing a thorough overview of the E-Rate applications from the ESCs, their compliance with E-Rate and state/local procurement requirements, and focusing on how the petitioners are looking to use federal policy to fix a problem that doesn't exist, to establish monopolistic protections for incumbent providers, and to ensure a protected path for access to federal funding (without having applied in the first place). Read our full comments, as well as the ex-parte letters filed after our meetings with the offices of Cmsrs. Pai, Carr and O'Rielly

June 28, 2019(1)

(ED FUNDING) Permanent link

Joint Letter Calling For Increased Federal Funding In Teacher Quality Partnership Grants

On Wednesday the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), AASA, and a group of 26 other education organizations issued a letter to Chairman Roy Blunt and Ranking Member Patty Murray of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS and Education, urging members to maintain funding for the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grant at $53.1 million. The TQP program, authorized under Title II of the Higher Education Act, is the only federal initiative targeted directly to higher education-based teacher preparation programs, and it is designed to help ensure that high-need schools are staffed with profession-ready teachers.

At a time when the teaching profession faces declining enrollment, teacher shortages, and retention challenges, increased federal investment in solutions such as the TQP grant program are vital. TQP grants support intensive partnerships between high-need school districts, high-need public schools, institutions of higher education, and other eligible entities to prepare profession-ready teachers. The program requires student teachers to undergo no less than two years of induction, mentoring, or teacher residency models. In addition, grantees must prepare new teachers to teach students with disabilities and English language learners, to use research and data to inform instruction and to have literacy teaching skills so that upon program completion teachers are fully prepared for the rigors of providing daily classroom instruction. Thus far, 70 programs have received funding via the TQP grant, and preliminary results show over 500 high-need public schools are seeing improvements in the quality and retention of their teachers, and correspondingly enhancements in the quality of their students' learning. AASA was proud to sign onto the letter and support the TQP program.