April 25, 2018

(SCHOOL NUTRITION) Permanent link

House Committee Passes Farm Bill

 Last week, the House Agriculture Committee advanced H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 to reauthorize the Farm Bill. The bill passed on a party-line vote of 26-20. While AASA does not take a position on the bill itself, we are very concerned about the bill’s effects on crucial nutrition programs, including school lunch and breakfast programs. As advocates for students, we are very concerned about the bill’s impacts on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps. The bill imposes stricter work requirements for SNAP recipients than previous bills. This would cause one million households – including many with children – to lose their SNAP benefits or have them reduced. This will further increase food insecurity among students.

Additionally, the bill narrows the categorical eligibility option, which allows states to raise the threshold for eligibility for SNAP. This would also impact direct certification for school lunch and breakfast programs. If this change were to go into effect, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that some 265,000 children would lose free school meals. 

April 19, 2018

 Permanent link

AASA Expresses Concern Around Changes to Public Charge Rule

The Trump administration is proposing changes to what programs immigration caseworkers must consider when determining whether immigrants and their children (often U.S. citizens) can use. Currently, this only includes cash assistance (TANF, SSI, state cash aid). The draft proposal makes sweeping changes, including adding SNAP and CHIP to the list of programs that must be considered. This would force immigrant families to choose between their legal immigration status and their children's access to food and health care. The draft rule also eliminates the school lunch/breakfast program from the list of programs they are explicitly not allowed to consider. This leaves the school lunch/breakfast program in a gray area, where parents would be concerned about signing their children up for these critical programs.

AASA sent a letter expressing our concerns for the students in schools across the nation who would be negatively impacted if this rule were to go into effect. 

April 11, 2018

(ADVOCACY TOOLS, ED FUNDING, THE ADVOCATE) Permanent link

AASA Opposes Balanced Budget Amendment

The House of Representatives is set to vote on a balanced budget amendment this week. AASA sent up its letter of opposition.

We used this month's The Advocate to highlight Congressional (read: House/GOP/Trump) efforts related to the balanced budget amendment and rescission. It is embedded below:

The Advocate
April 2018

Less than one month after Congress passed a bipartisan funding deal for federal fiscal year 2018 (FY18), there are proposals that would revert, if not eliminate, the recent commitment to federal investment, with potentially dire consequences for education.

There are two different avenues under consideration, outlined here for your reference. Both would undermine the vote to raise the spending caps for FY18 and FY19, which was adopted with bipartisan support and paved the way for the final FY18 package adopted in late March. (Read AASA’s analysis of the FY18 deal and its impact on education.)

 

  • Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA): This is a new push for an old topic, the idea of a balanced federal budget. House Republicans are expected to vote in April on a constitutional amendment calling for a balanced budget. This vote is part of a deal made to win the support of conservatives to pass the budget resolution that included the fast-track provisions that made last year’s tax plan possible (remember all that fun?!).
    • AASA has historically opposed a push for a balanced federal budget. We support fiscal restraint and responsibility, but the reality of requiring a balanced federal budget raises a whole new host of concerns, including the inability to provide emergency funding (think: America Recovery and Reinvestment Act and any of the recent natural disaster emergency spending). 
    • AASA is also concerned that such a vote is hypocritical. The idea that Congress would support a balanced budget but only after passing the tax overhaul in 2017 that relived on $1.5 trillion in deficit spending is illogical, at best. The vote is expected to get next to zero traction: while it may pass the House, it is not expected to pass the Senate or to get the support of the required three-fourths of states. 
    • The Congressional Research Service developed a handy issue brief, if you want to geek out on BBA and read about the possible economic impacts of requiring a balanced federal budget, the recent Congressional history around BBA, and the process that would be involved.
  • Rescission: This proposal comes from the White House and stems from the Administration’s interest in proposing a package of spending cuts. While this is also very unlikely to get any traction, we need to be diligent in communicating our opposition to any such effort. 
    • In this scenario, the President would recommend rescinding (cutting) funds for certain programs within FY18. Any rescission would take the support of Congress, meaning they’d have to vote to make cuts to the very funding package they just adopted. This is NOT a line item veto; a Presidential line item veto has been deemed unconstitutional, but it does work in a similar manner in that the President would identify specific cuts to make and Congress would vote.

These conversations are just getting started and the AASA advocacy team will be engaged in efforts to defeat both proposals and will make the appropriate information and calls to action available to our members via the AASA Leading Edge Blog

 

April 5, 2018

(ESEA, E-RATE, ED TECH) Permanent link

Homework Gap: ESSA Report Details Trends and Opportunities

9 months after it was due, we finally have the ESSA-required report on the homework gap, which tasked the Institute of Education Sciences to look at the educational impact of access to digital learning resources (DLR) outside of the classroom. The specific asks of the report included: 

 

  1. An analysis of student habits related to DLR outside of the classroom, including the location and types of devices and technologies that students use for educational purposes;
  2. An identification of the barriers students face in accessing DLR outside of the classroom;
  3. A description of the challenges that students who lack home internet access face, including challenges related to student participation and engagement in the classroom and homework completion;
  4. An analysis of how the barriers and challenges such students face impact the instructional practices of educators; and
  5. A description of the ways in which state education agencies, local education agencies, schools, and other entities, including partnerships of such entities, have developed effective means to address the barriers and challenges students face in accessing DLR outside of the classroom.

AASA has followed the issue of the homework gap for one simple reason: as schools, teachers and classrooms are increasingly reliant on internet access to support teaching and learning, the lack of access at home represents a very real obstacle for students. They can’t do their homework not because they’re lazy or don’t understand it, but because they don’t have access. This report was required, in part, to examine the extent of uneven access to internet and connected devices at home. Top line take aways:

 

  • Nearly two-thirds (61%) of children use the internet at home, meaning over one-third (39%) do not. This is a significant share, and interesting given that 91% of students have access to connectivity at home, meaning that they live in a house with a device they don’t have access to. The big take away, however, is that 1/3 of students don’t use the internet.
  • Between 2010 and 2015, the share of students with access to high-speed internet at home fell from 89 to 78 percent. 
  • The top two reasons why children (ages 3 to 18) lacked access to the internet at home were listed as cost (too expensive) or that their family did not need it/was not interested in having access.
  • The report showed higher average achievement scores for students who used computers at home and/or had internet access at home that those did not. An important caveat: this analysis did not systematically consider the myriad socioeconomic background characteristics that are known to impact student achievement. 

 

Want to read more ? Check out the executive summary or the full report

April 3, 2018

(WELL-BEING, GUEST BLOGS, SCHOOL HEALTH) Permanent link

Blog Tour: The Role of Education Leaders To Ensure Safe Schools, Thru a Federal Policy Lens

This post also appears in the AASA Total Child Blog, as part of their National Healthy Schools Day Blog Tour. April 3 is National Healthy Schools Day, and the advocacy team was invited to contribute a blog post talking about what a healthy school looks like, how school shootings have influenced our perceptions of what it means to be a healthy school, and how school system leaders can help the students they serve feel safe. You can access the full collection of blog entries on the Total Child Blog.

When we, as a nation, find ourselves once again responding to yet another school shooting, the urgent need to ensure that our nation’s students can be safe in their learning environments jumps to the front of everyone’s minds, when, ideally, the safety of the students should be so assumed, automatic, and natural it appears as little more than a blip on the radar.  In our department, we look at the questions provided as prompts for this blog in the same way we look at questions posed when it comes to federal education policy: Is there a role for the federal government in this discussion? What does that role look like? How can we represent the voices and priorities of public school superintendents in this discussion? How can we advance a policy that supports state and local decision making? Does the policy outcome/proposal? To that end, here is our contribution to the National Healthy Schools Day Blog Tour.

April 20 marks the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school massacre, and is also a national day of action in response to the continued national crisis of gun violence in schools. AASA is proud to partner with and support the National Day of Action to Prevent Gun Violence in Schools. Set for more than two months after the most recent school shooting, the timeline ensures at least minimal coverage and attention to the important discussion around school safety, rather than falling off the radar. AASA assembled a set of resources and information to support school system leaders, their staff, their community, and their students as they navigate yet another round of student deaths. In particular the set of ideas and activities that students and school communities can engage in—in addition to or in place of a student walk out—reflects what a healthy school looks like today: something that can and will vary by community, but with a common thread. School shootings haven’t altered our view of what it means to be a healthy school; it has clarified the intensity by which we work to make it a reality for all students. AASA’s Position Paper on School Safety outlines AASA’s policy positions on the comprehensive approach necessary to prevent future school violence. 

AASA recommends that every school district have the following safety programs and procedures: 

 

  • Every district should have policies in place requiring individual school and building safety plans, as well as district wide safety plans. These plans should serve as a guide to address the various safety needs in the school such as lockdown procedures, evacuations, drills and safety protocols, and personnel assignments. 
  • Every district should conduct regular audits to evaluate and analyze the effectiveness of their school safety and security plans. First-responders, local law enforcement and the entire school community should be engaged in this process. 
  • Every district should communicate with parents and community members about the school-level emergency preparedness protocols to the greatest extent possible. 
  • Every district should provide regular training for all school employees on the district’s school emergency management systems and protocols. 
  • Every district should work to create partnerships between schools, local law enforcement and appropriate community agencies (such as mental health) to prevent and reduce school violence.

And from the federal perspective, AASA has clear recommendations that Congress can take to support school districts in their effort to enhance school safety, as well as recommendations on gun safety legislation:

 

  • Enhance School Safety Parts of these recommendations were addressed in what Congress passed in the FY18 omnibus. We repeat them here because they are in our current position and to reiterate that they remain priorities and that Congress must maintain its investment in these services, supports and programs. 
    • Reinstate funding for the Safe and Drug Free Schools program. Schools and states annually pay billions of dollars to address the results of substance abuse, school violence and unaddressed mental health needs through local and state funding. Reinstatement of the Safe and Drug Free Schools program represents an important federal investment in successful prevention and intervention efforts. Much of this program can be found in ESSA Title IV. We applaud Congress for the funding it provided for the flexible funding bloc grant in FY18 and what it will mean for districts, in terms of providing these important wrap around supports.
    • Re-establish funding for the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools grants designed to help schools prevent and manage emergencies. AASA was pleased to see the STOP Act included in the FY18 omnibus, a program that will allow districts to support school safety.
    • Restore funding for programs such as the Secure our Schools grant program and the COPS in Schools program, which provided grants for security equipment, security assessments and school resource officers. 
    • Increase funding for mental health counselors and services in schools. Access to these services is a crucial component of any effort to prevent/respond to a school emergency. 
    • Ensure existing federal policy gives local school districts the flexibility to use resources to fund student services personnel (including counselors, psychologists and therapists). Wrap-around services are central to addressing the needs of the total child, and flexibility in existing federal policy will better enable local school districts to use limited federal dollars in a way to maximize student support. 
    • Provide funds for districts to upgrade their facilities if internal safety audits require improvements.
  • Gun Safety Legislation
    • Increase enforcement of existing gun laws 
    • Reinstate the ban on the sale, import, transfer and ownership of assault weapons 
    • Ban large-capacity magazines 
    • Require thorough background checks for all gun purchasers 
    • End the “gun-show” loophole 
    • Prevent individuals convicted of violent crimes from being able to purchase guns 
    • Prevent individuals with mental health issues from purchasing or owning a gun (18 U.S.C. 922 (g)) 
    • Punish irresponsible gun owners

AASA hopes that school leaders find ways of enhancing their current school safety procedures, and applauds the recent federal fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill, which included several measures that directly support the provisions outlined above. You can read AASA’s full analysis of the education implications for the FY18 bill. 

 

  • Funds ESSA Title IV at $1.1 billion dollars, a $700 million increase, a meaningful payment towards a flexible funding block grant that will help boost school safety and mental health resources. As described in a Congressional fact sheet, the money is intended “to expand school-based mental health services and supports; for bullying prevention; and for professional development for personnel in crisis management and school-based violence prevention strategies”
  • Clarifies that funding thru the Center for Disease Control (CDC) can be used for gun-related research. This is a win: a provision called the ‘Dickey Amendment’ had long existed and been interpreted to mean that such funds couldn’t be sued for this research, resulting in a dearth of research and information related to guns, gun violence, and other such information.
  • The bill includes language that prohibits the use of federal funds to arm teachers or provide firearm training to teachers.
  • Includes the Fix NICS Act, which would ensure federal and state authorities accurately report relevant criminal history records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
  • Authorizes and funds the STOP School Violence Act, legislation that would invest in early intervention and prevention programs to stop school violence before it happens by authorizing the Department of Justice to make grants to states for purposes of training students, school personnel, and law enforcement to identify signs of violence and intervene to prevent people from harming themselves or others. The program is authorized at $75 million.

If we hope to prevent future tragedies at schools, we must comprehensively address both school safety and gun safety. Increased mental health services, community supports for youth, and new attitudes about violence in our entertainment must all be part of this approach. We must be willing to spend the time and resources necessary to make sustainable changes.