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
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