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.