November 30, 2016

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Analysis of Foster Care Transportation Requirements in ESSA Reg

Earlier, this week the US Department of Education (ED) published final regulations to implement the accountability and state plan provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). These final regulations include new rules related to homelessness and foster care. In light of AASA's deep concerns with the proposed regulation the new and final rule is a considerable advocacy win given its importance for school leaders.

Below is an quick analysis from Barbara Duffield at SchoolHouse Connection on what school leaders must understand about the new regulation

I. Transportation to School of Origin for Children in Foster Care -  §299.13(c)(ii)

In §299.13(c)(ii), ED included the following regulation for the Title I state plan:  

“To ensure that children in foster care promptly receive transportation, as necessary, to and from their schools of origin when in their best interest under section 1112(c)(5)(B) of the Act, the SEA must ensure that an LEA receiving funds under title I, part A of the Act will collaborate with State and local child welfare agencies to develop and implement clear written procedures that describe:

(A)  How the requirements of section 1112(c)(5)(B) of the Act will be met in the event of a dispute over which agency or agencies will pay any additional costs incurred in providing transportation; and

(B)  Which agency or agencies will initially pay the additional costs so that transportation is provided promptly during the pendency of the dispute. 

Analysis of Final Regulation:

This final rule on the transportation of children in foster care to their schools of origin is a marked departure from the U.S. Department of Education’s initial proposal. The final rule also substantially modifies ED’s previously-issued guidance on the same subject.

The final regulation requires LEAs that receive Title I Part A funds to collaborate with State and local child welfare agencies on written procedures that describe how the statutory requirements of ESSA in section 1112(c)(5)(B) will be met in the event of a dispute over which agency/agencies will pay additional costs of transportation, including which agency/agencies will initially pay additional costs during the pendency of the dispute.

It is important to note:

1) The final regulation references the statutory requirements of ESSA in section 1112(c)(5)(B). This section requires LEAs that receive Title I Part A funds to collaborate with child welfare agencies to develop and implement local transportation procedures that must ensure that children and youth in foster care receive transportation to their school of origin, if it is in their best interest; and that, if there are additional costs, LEAs provide transportation only on the condition that the LEA agrees to pay some or all of those costs or the child welfare agency agrees to reimburse the LEA for the costs.

Nothing in the final regulation changes the limited statutory obligations of LEAs to provide transportation if there are additional costs, and onlyif they are reimbursed or agree to pay for it.

2) The regulations clearly establish no presumption regarding which agency/agencies are responsible for additional transportation costs during disputes. Rather, the regulation requires LEAs that receive Title I Part A funds to collaborate with State and local child welfare agencies to develop procedures that describe which agency/agencies will pay for additional costs during disputes over which agency/agencies must pay.

3) The final regulation contemplates a collaborative process between LEAs and state and local child welfare agencies for developing local transportation procedures. It would be inconsistent with the statute and the final regulation for an SEA to impose a uniform requirement unilaterally on all LEAs in a state to pay for transportation during disputes. Such a unilaterally-imposed requirement would conflict with the requirement for the collaborative development of local transportation procedures addressing how transportation will be provided and who will be responsible for additional transportation costs while disputes are pending.

 

November 29, 2016

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School Choice in the States

 Following the election of Donald Trump and the nomination of Betsy DeVos, there has been a lot of talk about school choice provisions at the federal level. It is important to keep in mind that most school choice provisions are at the state level. Outside of charter schools, magnet schools and open enrollment, states have legislation that falls into four categories: vouchers, education savings accounts, individual tax credits or deductions and tax credit scholarships. Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia have some sort of this legislation on the books, as shown in the map below. Of these, 16 states have vouchers, 16 have tax credit scholarships, 8 have individual tax credits or deductions, and 5 have education savings accounts.

 choice map

The voucher legislation tends to be the longest, with bills dating back to 1869. Tax credits and scholarships have been growing since the 2000's. A newer option, education savings accounts have been growing since Arizona first passed its program in 2011. Nevada has the widest reaching program, with its education savings account open to all students in the state.

choice chart

Following the election, several states saw a Republican sweep and see the possibility of further legislation being enacted. We will continue to track any legislation at the federal level, and your state association will be doing the same at the state level.

November 28, 2016(1)

(ESEA, ADVOCACY TOOLS) Permanent link

AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech Statement on ESSA Accountability Regulations

AASA Executive Director Daniel A. Domenech released the following statement in response to the U.S. Education Department releasing its final rule on the accountability provisions within the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): 

"Today’s final rule on the accountability provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act is a solid improvement over the initial proposal and brings the regulations much more in line with the intent and spirit of the underlying statute. It is clear the Department of Education listened carefully to the overwhelming feedback they received in response to the proposed rule and revised their first draft to more closely reflect the insight, expertise and feedback of education practitioners—including public school superintendents—across the nation. As we move forward with ESSA implementation and into the new year and new Congress, AASA remains committed to working with Congress and the new administration to make sure additional ESSA implementation resources are equally committed to state and local leadership and flexibility, as well as broader education policies prioritizing the strengthening and support of our nation’s public schools.”

You can read further analysis on the regulation on the AASA policy blog.

November 28, 2016

(ESEA, ADVOCACY TOOLS, ED FUNDING) Permanent link

Post-Turkey Education Update: Sec of Ed, ESSA Regs, and Funding

Nothing says ‘Welcome back from the long holiday weekend!’ like the information in this blog post. Depending on your perspective, we could be thankful the final ESSA regulations weren’t dropped before the long weekend, or we could wallow in a write up that makes an already long Monday feel all the more ‘Monday’. But I digress.

Three things to flag for you from an advocacy update perspective: 

  • ESSA Regulations: Today, USED released its final regulations on ESSA accountability. We are still combing through the 300 page document. Here are some quick takeaways: Press Release, Summary, School Improvement Timelines, and the full text of the final regulations.
  • All three of our biggest concerns were addressed: the proposed requirement for a single summative indicator, the timeline for identification and the transportation of foster children provision.
    • The final regulation rescinds the initial proposed requirement of a single summative indicator. States can use the ratings in ESSA (including comprehensive improvement and targeted support) as their summative ratings, without being required to have a single, overall number or letter grade.
    • The proposed regulations required states to ID schools in need of improvement at the start of the 2017-18 school year. That has been delayed one year; the final regulation requires the identification for the 2018-19 school year. The timeline for accountability workbook submission has also changed. States will still have two options, but they are now April3 and September 18, 2017 (as opposed to the originally proposed March and July timelines).
    • The final regulations remove the language that requires LEAs to provide transportation to children in foster care if the LEA and child welfare agency do not agree on who will pay the additional costs associated with providing this transportation. This important change brings the final regulation into much closer alignment with the underlying statute. 
    • As a refresher, you can read AASA’s full set of formal comments to the proposed accountability regulations.
  • Secretary of Education: President Elect Donald Trump has selected his education secretary, and will nominate Betsy DeVos. There’s not much for us to say that you probably didn’t piece together from extensive media coverage over the weekend. Here are a few sample pieces:
  • AASA is neutral on the nomination. As a non-partisan professional association, we are committed to working with the Secretary of Education, the President and Congress regardless of their political affiliation. We will watch closely to ensure that the Secretary uses her position and opportunity for leadership to move policy that strengthens the nation’s public schools and we will remain diligent on key AASA policies, which include opposition to vouchers, ensuring that all entities receiving public dollars (including charter schools) are subject to the same accountability, transparency and reporting requirements, and that equity is at the center of all policy decisions.
  • Continuing Resolution: The current CR runs through December 9, meaning Congress has just over a week to adopt another fiscal policy to avoid a federal shutdown. At this point, they are working toward another short term continuing regulation, set to run through March 31. Republican leaders may try to wrap up the entire lame duck session by December 8, and have everyone out of town. 
 

November 10, 2016

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Bookshare Delivers Free Accessible Ebooks to Students with Disabilities

Today's guest blog post comes from Jim Fruchterman who is the founder and CEO of Benetech.  

 Imagine if each book needed by your students with disabilities was instantly available for free.  That reality is already mostly here, thanks to Bookshare, a national service funded by the federal Department of Education.

Bookshare has more than 480,000 accessible ebooks in its online library, including textbooks, literature, pleasure books, reference books, and books spanning almost every genre.  It has already delivered more than 10,000,000 ebooks to over 400,000 registered student users.  Bookshare can instantly convert these ebooks into braille, large print or audio books to meet the needs of students with vision impairments, physical disabilities or learning disabilities such as dyslexia that get in the way of reading print.

Thanks to national funding from the Office of Special Education Programs, Benetech continues to make extensive improvements to Bookshare to meet the needs of educators, both special educators and mainstream classroom teachers.  We know how busy teachers are, and we want to make it as easy and straightforward as possible to create reading lists of books for students with disabilities.  For students who are reading the books, we support just about every kind of technology, from specialized technology such as braille displays, to smart phones, dumb phones and inexpensive MP3 players.  And, the all-digital nature of the service and assistive technology software means it is just as easy for rural school districts to access Bookshare’s library as urban and suburban districts. 

Benetech is not only providing the largest online library for students with disabilities, but we’re also working closely with the publishing industry to see that mainstream digital educational materials are fully accessible from the start – or Born Accessible.  We believe that any book that is published can be published accessibly. The best long-term solution to book accessibility is universal design, where the same ebook that works for the student without a disability works terrifically well for the student with a disability. We’ve published a guide for districts on how to buy accessible: Buy Accessible: What to Look for in eBooks

As a final note, many national special education programs like Bookshare were defunded in the latest federal funding bill coming out of the House of Representatives.  It doesn’t make sense to go back to the days when teachers had to scan the same books over and over again at the district level.  The original dream of Bookshare was to solve that issue: scan once and share over and over again.  And, as you can see, that vision is now reality.  If you value helping students with disabilities read books, please contact your Congressional representatives today to ensure they continue. Thank you for supporting Bookshare and students across the country. 

November 2, 2016

(ESEA, E-RATE, ADVOCACY TOOLS, ED TECH, RESEARCH, PUBLICATIONS AND TOOLKITS) Permanent link

School Technology Makes Progress, Yet Challenges Remain—AASA & CoSN’s 2016 Infrastructure Survey

School systems in the United States are making progress in increasing broadband connectivity and Wi-Fi in classrooms. However, significant hurdles remain before all students are able to experience a digitally-enabled learning environment. These are the findings revealed today in CoSN’s 2016 Annual E-rate and Infrastructure Survey, a report conducted in partnership with AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and MDR.

Gathering insights from K-12 school administrators and technology directors nationwide, the report addresses key areas of concern for school districts, including affordability, network speed and capacity, reliability and competition, digital equity, security and cloud-based services. 

“The good news is districts are making real progress in supporting modern technology infrastructure. However, it remains clear that more work and investment are needed over the long run to address the digital equity challenge of today and provide robust broadband connectivity for all students in and outside of school,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN. 

Progress: School systems have progressed toward meeting the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) short-term goal of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students. Today 68 percent of the school districts fully meet the minimum Internet bandwidth recommendations in every one of their schools (it climbs to 80 percent of districts having three-fourths of their schools at this immediate connectivity goal). The 68 percent fully achieving the goal today is up from just 19 percent in 2013. 

The survey also shows increased reliability in Wi-Fi, which is now largely ubiquitous in high schools – only 6 percent lack Wi-Fi. In 2016, 81 percent of survey respondents indicated that they were very confident or somewhat confident in their Wi-Fi, a significant improvement over previous years.

Remaining Challenges: Despite this progress, school leaders also reported that affordability remains the biggest barrier to establishing strong connectivity in schools and that digital equity is a major priority. 

School districts are also largely not meeting the FCC’s long-term goal of 1 Gbps per 1,000 students. Only 15 percent of school districts report having 100 percent of schools reaching this goal, and that is consistent across urban, rural and suburban districts. School system leaders are divided about whether the long-term goal is too ambitious or about right.

School leaders project significant Internet bandwidth growth (100 to 500-plus percent increase) over the next 18 months, especially in urban (37 percent) and suburban (31 percent) districts. School leaders also project that nearly two-thirds of all students will use two or more devices at school within the next three years—an increase from 21 percent of students today. 

“The 2016 E-Rate and Infrastructure Survey demonstrates that we are making progress in bringing broadband infrastructure to our schools and in meeting our short-term bandwidth connectivity goals. This is welcome news,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “At the same time, however, the survey shows that challenges remain. In particular, we must continue to raise awareness and come up with strategies to overcome the ‘Homework Gap,’ which is the cruelest part of our new digital divide. Thanks to CoSN, AASA, and MDR for this year’s survey, which continues to shine a spotlight on the state of infrastructure necessary to support digital learning across the country.”

“The findings of this year’s infrastructure report highlight the important work of the ongoing effort to expand school connectivity and the opportunity to use this expanded connectivity in schools to support student learning as schools transition to implementation of the reauthorized Every Student Succeeds Act. The findings of this survey—both where progress has been made and where there is continued room for growth—are in strong parallel to the underlying improvements of ESSA and the responsibility state and local education agencies will play in leveraging expanded decision-making authority into meaningful learning opportunities for their students. Also, for addressing equitable educational opportunities, including those tied directly to connectivity, including equitable access both in and outside of school,” said Daniel A. Domenech, who serves as Executive Director for AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and a member of the Universal Service Administrative Company Board of Directors.

Further details as well as additional challenges and priorities identified by school system leaders follow:  
  • Affordability
    • Recurring Expenses a High Hurdle. This year, 57 percent of school leaders identified the cost of ongoing recurring expenses as the biggest barrier to robust connectivity—up from 46 percent last year. 
    • Monthly Costs Going Down. The cost for monthly Internet connection showed significant improvement, with nearly one-half of respondents reporting low monthly costs (less than $5 per Mbps). This is a steady improvement from 36 percent in 2015 and 27 percent in 2014.
  • Lack of Competition
    • Lack of Competition Magnified Rurally. More than half (54 percent) of rural district leaders reported that only one provider sells Internet to their school system, and 40 percent of rural respondents reported receiving one or fewer qualified proposals for broadband services in 2016. This marks no progress from last year. 
  • Digital Equity
    • Digital Equity Atop the List. Among the school leaders surveyed, 42 percent ranked addressing digital equity / lack of broadband access outside of school as a “very high priority.” 
    • Strategies Needed. Nearly two-thirds of school system leaders, however, revealed that they do not have any strategies for providing off-campus connectivity to students. This is only a slight improvement over previous years.
  • Security
    • Small Investment in Security. Nearly half of school system leaders spend less than 4 percent of their entire technology budget on security. 
    • Phishing Top Security Concern. The largest security concern for school leaders is phishing (with 19 percent citing it as a high risk), with denial of service and ransomware rated equally as threats (9 percent).  
  • Cloud-Based Services
    • Server Migration Increasing. Approximately 40 percent of school districts are considering migrating their server infrastructure to the cloud. 
    • Learning Management Systems Tops Cloud Deployment. Nearly 60 percent of school system leaders stated that learning management systems make up the largest cloud deployment, followed by student information systems. 

Conducted in August 2016, the 2016 Annual E-rate and Infrastructure Survey collected 567 responses from district administrators and technology leaders serving urban, suburban and rural school system in 48 states and the District of Columbia. 

“MDR is excited to once again partner with an organization committed to identifying and solving the challenges associated with technology and education,” said Kristina James, MDR Director of Marketing. “Current MDR research shows that 75 percent of districts rated wireless networks as their top technology priority, the sixth year in a row that wireless networks have topped their priority list, reflecting the shift to digital and districts’ interest in being able to personalize learning for all students. This year’s CoSN survey illustrates the same desire, while highlighting the barriers districts need to overcome, to continue making progress towards this shift.”

To read the full report, please visit: www.cosn.org/infrastructure2016