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).