June 28, 2019(1)

(ED FUNDING) Permanent link

Joint Letter Calling For Increased Federal Funding In Teacher Quality Partnership Grants

On Wednesday the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), AASA, and a group of 26 other education organizations issued a letter to Chairman Roy Blunt and Ranking Member Patty Murray of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS and Education, urging members to maintain funding for the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grant at $53.1 million. The TQP program, authorized under Title II of the Higher Education Act, is the only federal initiative targeted directly to higher education-based teacher preparation programs, and it is designed to help ensure that high-need schools are staffed with profession-ready teachers.

At a time when the teaching profession faces declining enrollment, teacher shortages, and retention challenges, increased federal investment in solutions such as the TQP grant program are vital. TQP grants support intensive partnerships between high-need school districts, high-need public schools, institutions of higher education, and other eligible entities to prepare profession-ready teachers. The program requires student teachers to undergo no less than two years of induction, mentoring, or teacher residency models. In addition, grantees must prepare new teachers to teach students with disabilities and English language learners, to use research and data to inform instruction and to have literacy teaching skills so that upon program completion teachers are fully prepared for the rigors of providing daily classroom instruction. Thus far, 70 programs have received funding via the TQP grant, and preliminary results show over 500 high-need public schools are seeing improvements in the quality and retention of their teachers, and correspondingly enhancements in the quality of their students' learning. AASA was proud to sign onto the letter and support the TQP program.

June 28, 2019

(SCHOOL NUTRITION) Permanent link

Allied Organization Child Nutrition Reauthorization Letter

Yesterday, the School Nutrition Association (SNA), the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO), and AASA issued a letter to the Senate Agriculture and House ED and Labor Committees, listing a set of priorities for the federal School Lunch and Breakfast program as Congress attempts to reauthorize the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2015.

The letter calls on House and Senate Committee Leadership to ensure that beneficial, cost-effective school nutrition programs can continue to help nearly 30 million students each day, especially students from low-income households, gain access to quality nutritious food while improving their overall health, development and academic success. 

Specifically, the allied organizations’ letter request Congress to sustain the progress we've achieved of improving the Federal School Meals programs by returning to a five-year administrative review cycle, modifying the Smart Snacks in Schools Rule, Increasing USDA Foods (Commodities) support for the School Breakfast Program, and opposing  School Meal Block Grant Proposals.

AASA was proud to join SNA and ASBO in urging the Committees to take up these critically important measures while they work to reauthorize child nutrition programs.

 

June 18, 2019(2)

(E-RATE, ED FUNDING) Permanent link

Of E-Rate and Approps: An Advocacy Update

E-Rate Update: A recent proposal from the Federal Communications--under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai (Republican)--would place limits on the amount of money the e-Rate program could make available to support school and library efforts to improve internet access. Unlike previous proposals we have responded to at the FCC, which have been narrow in scope and focused on E-Rate--this latest proposal targets the broader umbrella program--the Universal Service Fund (USF)--that includes three other sister programs (Rural health care, the Connect America Fund and Lifeline). Currently each of the four USF programs operate under their own cap you'll recall that the E-Rate cap currently sits at just over $4 billion, a cap established in the 2014 E-Rate modernization. The FCC's proposal would set a cap for the overall USF. THe proposed cap is nearly $2 billion above current levels. Specific to E-Rate, the proposal would pair E-Rate with Rural Healthcare under a single cap. This is of particular concern to us because while E-Rate is currently undersubscribed, school and library demand will only continue to grow, and even if these connectivity prices continue to fall, the reality of increasing demand and skyrocketing costs with rural health care create a scenario where one USF program is pitted against another, with rural schools competing with rural health care for connectivity needs. This should not be an 'either, or' funding approach; the USF program was designed to address four distinct connectivity needs, a core tenet this proposal blatantly disregards. The proposal will follow the normal comment period. As an initial reply, AASA partnered with our EdLiNC coalition to request an extension on the filing deadline. You can read that letter here

Big take aways? Moving forward, know that this is the top advocacy priority for the summer. We will be utilizing a full member press to ensure the FCC hears loud and clear about the importance of the E-Rate program, how the proposed partner cap creates an arbitrary competition between complementary programs, and threatens to undermine the viability of the overarching program. Our efforts will focus on the FCC, as this is where the proposal originated and where the decision will be made, but we will also exert messaging effort on Capitol Hill, as Congress oversees the FCC and the Telecommunications Act, the authorizing statute under the overall USF program. 

Appropriations Update: House Democrats plan to pass a nearly $1 trillion spending package this week, a move that would tie up loose ends from the intra-party fight in April over the fiscal direction of the country. Passing H.R. 2740 would require solid support throughout the House Democratic caucus, because Republicans have said they won’t back the measure, which includes Defense, Labor-HHS-Education, State and Foreign Operations, and Energy and Water appropriations. To reach the 217 votes currently necessary for a majority, Democrats can lose support from no more than 17 of their 235 members. AASA sent a letter of support for the bill, with the Committee for Education. Later in the week, the House will begin consideration of its second appropriations package (H.R. 3055) that includes Agriculture-FDA, Commerce-Justice-Science, Interior-Environment, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD funds. Agencies and programs covered by those five appropriations bills would receive about $320 billion in fiscal 2020 discretionary funding under the measure. Over on the Senate side, negotiations on a possible deal to raise the discretionary caps on defense and non-defense spending have not yet been fruitful, and have led to contemplating looking for a deal to raise just the FY 2020 caps, meaning that Congress would have to face a huge spending cut down to the sequester-level caps for FY 2021 in an election year.  That is not an outcome that congressional leadership want.

Big take aways? We are not in the clear when it comes to avoiding a shutdown, nor is there a clear path forward on raising the caps. That said, the question is not so much 'Will Congress raise the caps?' as much as 'How much will Congress raise the caps, and will they address FY20 and FY21 in one package, or will they have to renegotiate in an election year?". 

June 18, 2019(1)

(STUDENT DATA PRIVACY, ED TECH, RESEARCH, PUBLICATIONS AND TOOLKITS) Permanent link

Join Us In Person (or Online!) for Free Student Data Privacy Bootcamp!

AASA: The School Superintendents Association and the Future of Privacy Forum are thrilled to invite you or your designee to attend an exclusive free Student Privacy Bootcamp for School Superintendents and Policymakers on Monday, July 8th, at FPF's office in Washington, DC (1400 I st NW, Suite 450, Washington, DC). This event will also be live-streamed.

The goal of the training program is to gather superintendents and policymakers to help them understand the regulatory requirements and best practices to properly handle student data in a complex and rapidly changing environment. The full event is from 8:30 - 11:30am ET. You can see the agenda and register to attend in person or via live-stream here

Questions? Contact Amelia Vance with FPF (avance@fpf.org) 

June 18, 2019

(ADVOCACY TOOLS, GUEST BLOGS, ED FUNDING) Permanent link

Guest Blog Post: New SALT Workaround Regulations Narrow a Tax Shelter, but Work Remains to Close it Entirely

This guest blog post comes from Carl Davis, with the Institute for Tax and Economic Policy. Carl serves as the research director at ITEP. This blog post originally appeared on the ITEP blog and is published here with permission. Follow Carl on Twitter @carlpdavis (carl at itep.org)

Today the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its final regulations cracking down on a tax shelter long favored by private and religious K-12 schools, and more recently adopted by some “blue state” lawmakers in the wake of the 2017 Trump tax cut.

The regulations come more than a year after the IRS first announced the launch of this project and about nine months after it unveiled an initial draft. Overall, the regulations are a big improvement but fall short of ending the tax shelter entirely for wealthy investors. The IRS has indicated that additional guidance will be needed to deal with a variety of lingering issues, though it remains to be seen what that guidance will entail.

At issue are state and local tax credits for taxpayers who make so-called “charitable donations” to specific causes cherry-picked by elected officials, including private K-12 schooling. For years, private school donors have used tax credits in exchange for donating to school voucher programs to beef up their federal charitable write-offs at little or no cost to themselves, since up to 100 percent of their “charitable gifts” to such funds are reimbursed with state tax credits (18 states offer these types of credits). A large state tax credit for private school donations combined with the federal tax deduction for charitable contributions allowed some high-income taxpayers to receive a tax benefit larger than their actual donation. In essence, state and federal law incentivized donations to private schools through a system of credits and deductions that allowed high-income taxpayers to profit from so-called donations. 

For years, these perverse tax shelters went unchallenged. But then in 2017 federal lawmakers enacted the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which capped the federal income tax deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) at $10,000. Lawmakers in higher-income states, which have a greater number of taxpayers affected by the SALT cap, began to take interest in this shelter as a way of helping their residents cut their federal tax bills. If federal law no longer allows SALT payments above $10,000 to be deducted, why not allow taxpayers to make “charitable gifts” (reimbursed with tax credits) to their state or local government instead of tax payments? New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Oregon enacted these arrangements. Then the IRS noticed the surge of interest in this tax strategy and decided to get involved. 

Under the new regulations, people receiving state tax credits in return for donations will have to subtract those credits when determining the real, deductible amount that they donated. For example, if a taxpayer donates $100 to support private or public education in Pennsylvania but receives a $90 tax credit in return, then only $10 of their donation will be deemed truly charitable and eligible for the federal charitable deduction. In other words, the regulations inject a welcome bit of common sense into the federal tax code’s definition of “charity.” 

Some private school groups were up in arms about this proposal when it was first unveiled and argued that this change should only be implemented in the context of donations to public schools, not private ones. But the IRS wisely rejected that argument and will treat donations to all types of entities in the same way. Failing to do so would have created a grave inequity in our tax code, would have been unnecessarily complex and would have reopened the door to more creative SALT cap workaround schemes. 

The main area where the regulations fall short, however, is in their treatment of investors donating stock or other property in exchange for tax credits. As ITEP explained in its comments on the initial draft of these regulations, investors in states such as South Carolina with stock they wish to offload will be advised by their accountants to “give” their stock away in return for a 100 percent tax credit, rather than sell that stock on the open market. To the IRS, selling a stock generates cash income that triggers a taxable capital gain, but a state tax credit received in return for donating stock has typically remained invisible. A South Carolina taxpayer with $75,000 in capital gains income, for example, could come out ahead by about $23,100 if they take their payment in the form of a state tax credit rather than cash, as ITEP has shown. In other words, some investors making so-called “charitable gifts” will continue to turn a profit as a perverse reward for sham generosity. 

Without question, Congress could fix this lingering problem if it wished. Legislation introduced by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) in the previous Congress, for instance, would require taxpayers to pay capital gains tax if they receive a large state tax credit as compensation for their gift of stock or property to a private school voucher organization. This improvement to our tax code’s measurement of real “charity” is worthwhile and could even be expanded to cover contributions of appreciated property to any organization. 

But the IRS has also indicated that it might seek to address this problem on its own, as it mentions that additional guidance will be needed on a number of issues including the portion of federal law governing treatment of capital gains income. 

Regardless of whether Congress or the IRS is the body to ultimately take action, it’s clear that additional work is needed to preserve the integrity of the charitable deduction by reserving it for real acts of charity, not sophisticated tax planning. Today’s regulation is a great step in that direction, but it shouldn’t be the final word.

June 14, 2019

(RURAL EDUCATION, ADVOCACY TOOLS) Permanent link

PEP Talk Podcast with John Forkenbrock: Let's Talk Rural!

The latest episode of the AASA policy podcast PEP Talk features John Forkenbrock. He joins AASA's Noelle Ellerson Ng for a colorful conversation about a career spanning Capitol Hill, association work, public education and everything in between.

John Forkenbrock is a longtime AASA friend, making a career out of education policy and advocacy. His passion for strong public schools and rural education was central to his time on Capitol Hill and in education associations. Currently serving as a leader with Organizations Concerned with Rural Education (OCRE), John was previously the executive director for the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools (NAFIS). In this episode, he chats with AASA's Noelle Ellerson Ng, and the conversation is as filled with policy insights as it is with colorful stories from an accomplished education career. Give it a listen today!

June 13, 2019

 Permanent link

K-12 Group Letter of Support for the PREP ACT

This week, AASA and a group of K-12 organizations issued a letter of support for the Preparing and Retaining Education Professionals (PREP) Act to Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pension Committee. The letter, which was led by NSBA and signed by AASA, AFT, CCSSO, NAESP, NASBE, NASSP and NEA recognizes that more must be done to stop increasing levels of educator attrition and prepare beginning teachers to meet the needs of diverse student populations. The letter calls on the Senate HELP committee to include the bill in any forthcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (which, according to the rumors, should drop any day now). 

As you may recall from our last blog post on this issue, the bipartisan PREP act provides a practical approach for updating Title II of HEA by incentivizing teacher preparation programs to develop teacher quality partnerships between elementary, secondary, and postsecondary institutions; increasing recruitment of diverse educators; and promoting clinical based practices such as teacher residency, induction and mentoring models. The bill offers Congress a path to ensure that there are enough teachers and principals with the right skills and tools to prepare students for the future, while also minimizing the burdens of implementation by supporting local and state policy and practice improvements already underway. AASA was proud to magnify the voice of superintendents on this issue and signed onto the joint letter, which can be viewed here.  

June 11, 2019

(ADVOCACY TOOLS, RESEARCH, PUBLICATIONS AND TOOLKITS, GUEST BLOGS, ED FUNDING) Permanent link

NEW Toolkit: Crowdfunding Policies for School Districts

AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and the national nonprofit DonorsChoose.org have joined forces to create an updated toolkit for school district leaders to maximize the impact of crowdfunding in their schools. The Back to School Crowdfunding Toolkit was a first step in helping district administrators understand best practices in vetting and using teacher crowdfunding sites. The new Establishing Your Crowdfunding Policy Toolkit outlines policies and practices that district administrators can enact to support teacher innovation with appropriate safeguards.

Teacher use of crowdfunding sites to receive critical resources for their classrooms is on the rise. However, district leaders often have questions about the process and best practices to ensure safety and transparency. The new toolkit provides insights from AASA members and DonorsChoose.org on how to ensure equity and responsible use of crowdfunding in their districts. 

Our new toolkit Establishing Your Crowdfunding Policy Toolkit can be found here.

 

June 8, 2019(1)

(RURAL EDUCATION, ADVOCACY TOOLS, THE ADVOCATE) Permanent link

June 2019 The Advocate: Forest Counties Update

Each month, the AASA advocacy team writes an article for The Advocate, designed to be used by our state affiliates in their respective monthly newsletters. The Advocate is a great way to expand the relationship between our national and state organizations, to provide members with a timely update on a relevant topic, and to highlight the priorities of AASA advocacy. This month's topic? Forest counties.

The Advocate: June 2019

This month we dig deep on the Secure Rural Schools and Counties program. It is a critical program that benefits a large majority of states in the nation, with especially important roles in the Pacific Northwest and states with a large amount of federal forest land.

By way of background: In December 2000, with support from the National Forest Counties & Schools Coalition (NFCSC), the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Act was signed into law. This bill provided Title I payments to counties (for roads) and to public schools. It also provided payments to counties to invest in Title II Forest Improvement Projects on National Forests and Title III for specific projects and programs in counties.

The Act also authorized the counties to create, in cooperation with the USFS, collaborative Resource Advisory Committees. This Act was enormously successful in that it restored county and school revenues to their 1980's and early 90's levels, resulting in restoration of public services and school programs. The 62 Resource Advisory Committees completed more than 4,000 projects on national forest lands without a single lawsuit or appeal. The original SRS authorization expired in September 2006.

Congress funded the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program for the short-term FY 2017-2018 in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 1625) which extended SRS funding for FY 2017- 2018. SRS funding for two years provides very short-term financial support for the disintegrating SRS safety net serving 9 million students and county citizens in 4,400 school districts in 775 forest counties in 41 states. No funding was provided in FY19, and no funding has been proposed for FY20 to date.

National forests and communities burned at significant rates over the last few years. Forest communities are suffering human and economic devastation as the SRS safety net continues to unravel. Forest counties, communities, schools and students continue to the pay the price as extremely dangerous fires devastate local communities while also suffering loss of irreplaceable essential fire, police, road and bridge, community and educational services. As a long-term alternative to SRS, the federal government and Congress have been promising but not delivering a long-term system based on sustainable active forest management.

With this background, our most recent success related to SRS has been to secure funding, albeit in a patchwork of short-term funding bills. We need the FY20 appropriations bill to include funding for at least FY20 and FY19 (retroactively) if not also for FY21. For longer term stability, though, the SRS coalition we belong to has pivoted to a two-prong strategy: In addition to the usual push for annual funding, we are also looking for a significant restructuring of the program, to remove its reliance on the annual appropriations process. To that end, we were pleased to see the recent reintroduction of the bipartisan Forest Management for Rural Stability Act, first introduced in December 2018, which would make SRS permanent by creating an endowment fund to provide stable, increasing and reliable funding for county services. This bill has yet to be introduced in the House, but we are making inroads.

Moving forward through the summer, the ask should be to ensure that your Senators have signed on to the Forest Management for Rural Stability Act and ask them to commit to securing funding for SRS in the final FY20 funding package, including retroactive funding for FY19.

June 8, 2019

(IDEA, ED TECH, RESEARCH, PUBLICATIONS AND TOOLKITS) Permanent link

Inclusive Technology in a 21st Century Learning System

Earlier this week, in collaboration with 12 other national partners, NCLD created a set of resources that identify new ways to think about education technology and equity: Inclusive Technology in a 21st Century Learning System. The report explores the conception, design, procurement, use, and continuous improvement of ed tech initiatives. NCLD also worked with partner organizations, including AASA, to translate how local, state, and national policy makers can play a role in ensuring technology closes educational, economic, and civic opportunity gaps for individuals with disabilities. The following resources include actionable steps and key considerations. AASA was pleased to endorse and support the local action primer.