October 8, 2019

(SCHOOL NUTRITION) Permanent link

PEP Talk Episode 14: Crystal FitzSimons

We're back with the latest episode of PEP Talk, AASA's policy podcast. This week's episode features a conversation between Crystal FitzSimons, Director of School and Out-of-School Time Programs at the Food Research and Action Committee (FRAC) and AASA Policy Analyst Chris Rogers. In her current role, Crystal directs FRAC's work on the child nutrition programs that serve school-age children; and is responsible for advocating for legislative and regulatory improvements to the federal child nutrition programs. Check out our discussion to get the latest developments on the Categorical Eligibility program and hear updates from the Hill on child nutrition reauthorization.

September 24, 2019(1)

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End of Comment Period for Cat El Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

Yesterday, was the final closing date to submit comments to USDA’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on revisions to Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (Cat El) in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Thank you to everyone that participated in the call-to-action. If you missed your final opportunity to weigh in on the importance of Cat El, don’t worry, AASA submitted comments to USDA requesting that the agency rescind its proposal and protect the more than 500,000 students who stand to lose their free and reduced-priced lunch designation as a result of the rule. To view the letter, click here.
Now that the comment period is over, it's USDA's Food Nutritional Services Agency's turn to review comments from the public and respond accordingly. No matter what happens next, we will update you on USDA's final decision and what it means for public schools.

September 6, 2019

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The Advocate: September 2019

Every 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, a way to build a direct link not only between AASA and our affiliates, but also AASA advocacy and our superintendents. The article is called The Advocate, and here is the September 2019 edition.

Earlier this summer, USDA released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would limit states’ ability to implement Broad-based Categorical Eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – which provides eligible low-income households with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card that can be used at authorized grocery stores. Under current law, families may become SNAP-eligible by either (1) meeting program-specific federal eligibility requirements, or (2) being deemed automatic or “categorically" eligible for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grant (TANF).

Originally, TANF was designed as a broad-purposed block grant to finance a wide range of social welfare activities, including government-subsidized employment, childcare and cash. By automatically enrolling TANF eligible households in SNAP, the Categorical Eligibility (Cat El) program enabled states to support families on the cusp of the federal poverty line through short-term financial crises by ensuring their continued access to food security. Cat El also benefited schools by making TANF students automatically eligible for free and reduced priced lunch.

The effect of this change on students and schools will be immense, as many families will no longer be eligible to receive free and reduced priced breakfast and lunch if the regulation passes. According to early estimates from Food Nutritional Service, more than 500,000 students will lose their automatic eligibility for free school meals as a result of the change.

Additionally, by limiting states' ability to confer Categorical Eligibility to TANF families, the NPRM could hurt schools’ Title I Funding. Under the new regulation, fewer students will be eligible to receive the FRPL designation, which is one of the key metrics the U.S. Department of Education uses to allocate funding. Thus, the NPRM presents us with a double whammy scenario that will hurt the federal school meals and Title I programs. 

Cat El policies have been in place for more than two decades. Although House Republicans tried to gut the program during the 2011 Reauthorization of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, Congress has overwhelmingly rejected efforts to make Cat El more restrictive, including during its consideration of the 2005 budget reconciliation and the 2018 Farm Bill. This USDA rulemaking is an attempt to sidestep Congress and is outside of USDA’s authority.   

Remember, in 2019 we're asking all our members to take their advocacy up to the next level. Here is your chance to let USDA know that this is unacceptable. Comments must be filed on or before September 23. To help broadcast the importance of Cat El for students and schools, you can file comments by copying and pasting this letter to the following link! If you're looking for something shorter, feel free to copy and paste an abridged template for filing comments here

August 15, 2019(1)

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Call to Action: Support Categorical Eligibility

Earlier this summer, USDA released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would limit states’ability to implement Broad-based Categorical Eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – which provides eligible low-income households with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card that can be used at authorized grocery stores. Under current law, families may become SNAP-eligible by either (1) meeting program-specific federal eligibility requirements, or (2) being deemed automatic or “categorically" eligible for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grant (TANF).

Originally, TANF was designed as a broad-purposed block grant to finance a wide range of social welfare activities, including government-subsidized employment, childcare, and cash. By automatically enrolling TANF eligible households in SNAP, the Categorical Eligibility (Cat El) program enabled states to support families on the cusp of the federal poverty line through short-term financial crises by ensuring their continued access to food security. Cat El also benefited schools by making TANF students automatically eligible for Free and Reduced Priced Lunch. 

The proposed rule by USDA is slated to have the following effects: 

  1. It will require TANF recipients to receive aid for 6-months or more before determining whether a household is eligible to receive SNAP benefits; 
  2. The rule will limit types of non-cash TANF benefits conferring categorical eligibility to those that focus on subsidized employment; and 
  3. The change will require state agencies to inform the Food Nutritional Service of all non-cash TANF benefits that confer categorical eligibility.  

If passed, the Cat El rule will hurt students by taking away food security from thousands of TANF households and creating a more onerous application process for families trying to receive SNAP benefits. For schools, the consequences of the rule will be felt immediately, as more than 500,000 students will no longer qualify for free school meals. Moreover, approximately 3.1 million families will lose their SNAP benefits. 

Remember, in 2019 we're asking all our members to take their advocacy up to the next level. Here is your chance to let USDA know that this is unacceptable. Comments must be filed on or before September 23rd. To help broadcast the importance of Cat El for students and schools you can file comments by copying and pasting this letter to the following link! If you're looking for something shorter, feel free to copy and paste an abridged template for filing comments here.


July 9, 2019


2019 Legislative Advocacy Conference Resources

It is our sincere hope that you are enjoying your time at the conference. As promised, here are the slides, handouts and resources we owe you. If  there is anything missing, we will update this blog post accordingly! 

June 28, 2019

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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.


January 23, 2019


AASA Joins 7 National Organizations in Letter to Urge Senate to Fund School Meals Programs

Today, AASA joined seven national organizations in a joint letter addressed to President Trump, Senator McConnell and Senator Schumer, urging them to adopt the House-passed FY19 agriculture appropriations bill.  Writing "The USDA appropriations provides the funds critical to supporting our schools’ breakfast and lunch programs, helping to feed more than 30 million children from low income families each day.", the groups express unanimous support for ensuring that our nation's students don't pay the price for the current shutdown. You can read the full letter here.

December 12, 2018

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USDA Issues Changes to School Nutrition Rules

The USDA recently released a final rule for its proposed changes to school meal standards. The final rule ushers in broader flexibilities in the whole wheat, sodium, and milk standards than previously suggested. Under the final rule, to be published later this month, the whole grain requirement will be lowered from 100 percent whole wheat to 50 percent whole wheat. Many districts have been eligible for an annual waiver from the 100 percent requirement, but under this rule, all districts will only be held to the 50 percent requirement. AASA had been suggesting this change, in that many districts have had difficulty finding culturally appropriate whole grain foods that students enjoyed.

The rule also holds steady the sodium limit, postponing the planned decreased allowance for four years and cancelling the final planned decrease. Phase II of the sodium restrictions will now take effect in the 2024-25 school year and will be the final stage. AASA had been suggesting this change as the current limits are already quite stringent and nutritionists disagreed on the need for further reductions.

The rule also allows schools to sell and to serve one percent flavored milk in addition to the nonfat milk currently allowed. This change will make it easier to buy, sell, and serve milk that is familiar to students.

Find AASA's statement here.

December 11, 2018

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Farm Bill Compromise Reached

Last night, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees released a Farm Bill compromise. We were concerned about two elements of the House version - the SNAP work requirements and changes to categorical eligibility. AASA applauds the committee members, particularly Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Senate Agriculture ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) for this bipartisan compromise that prioritizes children's health. 

The bill will be voted on by the House and Senate this week, before going to President Trump for his signature. He has hinted that there is a chance that he will veto any bill without the House-version's SNAP work requirements, but we are hopeful that he will be satisfied by other elements of the bill and will sign it before the end of the month.

October 18, 2018


Guest Blog Post: Trump Regulatory Agenda

Our friends at First Focus put together a quick overview on the latest update to President Trump's federal regulatory agenda. We are happy to share it here, and are pleased to be a member in their Children's Budget Coalition. 

The Trump administration’s fall regulatory agenda released yesterday morning offers a window into the White House’s anti-regulatory vision for the country. They claim it will cut regulatory costs by $18 billion. The agenda, released each year in the spring and fall, lists all rules that agencies are actively working on and what’s fallen to the back burner. There is no penalty for not meeting the listed dates, which aren’t always realistic. Trump boasted his administration had “set a record” for removing costly, unnecessary regulations—a claim disputed by critics who said the White House wildly exaggerated savings and overlooked the benefits of many rules. Here is an overview of some of the administration’s notable plans in some key issue areas:


  • Immigration: The Department of Homeland Security is adding even more new immigration regulations to its already lengthy list, with a new focus on immigrant investors, asylum seekers, and agricultural and seasonal guest workers. The agency released its “public charge” proposal last week, First Focus has an overview of the rule’s harm to children. Getting that proposed regulation published in the Federal Register was a top priority for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is now freed up to work on the remainder of its proposals. For instance, DHS also plans to make some changes to asylum processing. One proposed regulation would rework the “credible fear” process, whereby asylum seekers who demonstrate a credible fear of returning to their home countries cannot be deported until their asylum claims are fully processed. Another proposal is focused on reducing fraud in the process for asylum seekers to obtain work permits. Both proposals are scheduled for September 2019.
  • Tax Law Regulations: Seventeen regulations implementing the 2017 tax law are at the top of the Treasury Department’s action list for fiscal year 2019, according to its regulatory agenda. Most of those projects already were singled out in an Internal Revenue Service priority guidance plan. The list includes high-profile rules on the tax overhaul’s limit on the amount of debt interest payments that businesses can write off and guidance on foreign tax credit issues arising from new international changes.
  • Food Assistance:  USDA is moving to limit households’ eligibility for SNAP, both via changes to work requirements for so-called childless adults and to the categorical eligibility process, which streamlines assistance for individuals who participate in TANF. The proposals will track the House-passed provisions that are in part holding up compromise in Farm Bill negotiations. Stay tuned for a First Focus fact sheet outlining the proposed USDA changes in greater detail!



President Trump also said he will ask all Cabinet departments to cut their budgets by 5 percent next year, after the federal budget deficit swelled to its highest level since 2012 during the first full fiscal year of his presidency. “We’re going to be asking for a 5 percent cut from every secretary today,” he said. 

July 10, 2018


AASA ASBO Legislative Advocacy Content

Today we kicked off the 2018 AASA ASBO Legislative Advocacy Conference. This is your one stop shop for all content at the conference, and we will update with slides/presentations as we receive them from presenters. 



May 10, 2018

(SCHOOL NUTRITION) Permanent link

AASA Sends Letter on Farm Bill

Today, AASA and over 50 other groups sent a letter to the House urging Representatives to oppose the nutrition program changes made in H.R. 2, the Farm Bill reauthorization bill currently under consideration. The bill increases work requirements for families to qualify for SNAP, which could force 1 million families, many with children, to lose their access to these critical nutrition benefits. It also makes cuts to categorical eligibility, which could lead 265,000 children to lose automatic access to meals and would call into question the 9.7 million students currently served through the Community Eligibility Provision. Please join us in telling your Representatives to oppose these changes to nutrition programs.

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. 

February 20, 2018


Policy Recap from NCE

It was great to see so many of you in Nashville for NCE last week - we hope you learned a lot (and had some fun)! Here is a roundup of what our team was involved with at the conference:



November 14, 2017

(SCHOOL NUTRITION) Permanent link

School Kitchen Equipment Grant Threshold

The House Agriculture Appropriations bill included language lowering the threshold for USDA School Kitchen Equipment Grant purchases to $1,000, down from the current $5,000 requirement. AASA signed onto a letter to thank the committee for this change and to encourage the inclusion of the language in the final spending bill. This change will allow more flexibility to schools and will allow more schools and districts to take advantage of these grants for smaller but still important purchases, such as salad bars and automated slicers, that were previously not accessible through this grant program. 

Find more information on the School Kitchen Equipment Grant program here

May 4, 2017(1)


We're One Week into May, and there's a lot to share!

Lots of advocacy information to catch you up on: 

  • FY17 Budget: Congress agreed to a final spending bill for FY17, the federal dollars that will be in schools for the 17-18 school year. The bill is not good, but it is about as good as Congress can do given the current funding environment. AASA did not endorse the bill, given deep concerns we have with proposed cuts and inadequate funding to core programs, but we did not oppose the bill either, given that the bill was bipartisan and as good as Congress could do given the current funding caps (We can have an entirely separate conversation on how Congress alone can address the cap issue….they put the caps into place, they can resolve them.) But, for purposes for FY17, we were neutral on the bill, highlighting the good as well as the bad, and delivering a clear message that FY18 has to be better. The bill passed the House on May 3 and is being voted on in the Senate on May 4 (May the 4th be with you…..) Read the AASA letter
    • Quick Summary of Education impacts in FY17 omnibus
    • Provides $66.9 billion for USED (accounting for Pell rescission), a $1.1 b cut from FY16
    • ESSA
      • Title I increase of $550 million (includes $450 m from SIG consolidation and $100 m in new funding; will still leave school districts short $100 m for ESSA implementation)
      • Title II is cut by $294 m (13%)
      • Title IV is funded at $400 m, and states can choose to run it competitively
    • IDEA receives $90 m increase (Federal share just over 16%)
    • Impact Aid increase $23 m
    • 21st Century Community Learning Centers increase $25 m
    • Head Start increase $85 million
    • Includes reauthorization of DC voucher program
    • Does NOT include funding for Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program
  • ACHAThe House passed the bill to repeal/replace the Affordable Care Act on May 4. Here’s the latest call to action, which includes the priority members (those that are leaning no). While the bill passed the House, advocacy can sway that and we need to keep the pressure on for the Senate vote.  Details on the blog.
  • Perkins Career Tech: The House today introduced its bill to reauthorize the Carl Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. Called the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. The bill is sponsored by Rep Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL). Other sponsors include Byrne (R-AL) Clark (D-MA), Ferguson (R-GA), Langevin (D-RI), Nolan (D-MN), and Smucker (R-PA). You’ll recall that AASA endorsed the 2016 version of the bill (here’s a good run down of that bill).  Key changes in the 2017 version (H/T EdWeek):
    • States have to set performance targets based on the process in their state plans. 
    • The bill says that two accountability indicators in the bill, those for "nontraditional" students and for program quality, now only apply to CTE "concentrators" who have taken two sequential CTE courses of study. In general, the bill defines CTE concentrators as those students who have "completed three or more career and technical education courses, or completed at least two courses in [a] single career and technical education program or program of study."
    • Maintenance-of-effort language has been changed that would now allow states to decrease their CTE funding by 10 percent in the year immediately following implementation of the new Perkins law. 
    • The U.S. secretary of education now has 120 days to review the plans, not 90 as in last year's bill.  
  • School Nutrition: Earlier this week, US Dept of Agriculture announced a partial rollback of regulations on the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act, including delaying or weakening restrictions on salt and requirements for whole grains. This is a set of regulatory relief AASA has long championed. Check out Leslie’s blog post.
  • Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act: SRS/Forest Counties was NOT included in the FY17 funding bill. Your advocacy is working though because there is now Senate language to reauthorize the program. Sens. Hatch and Wyden introduced a bill to reauthorize the program for two years. Other Senators supporting the legislation include Crapo, Cantwell, Risch, Heinrich, Daines, Manchin, Gardner, Feinstein, Murkowksi, Sullivan, Tester, and Bennet.  WE MUST KEEP THE PRESSSURE ON CONGRESS TO ACT. Here is our call to action AND a recent social media campaign. Here’s a bulleted list of what’s in the bill:
    • Reauthorizes SRS payments for 2 years—retroactively, to make counties whole for their FY2016 payments and FY2017 (payment goes out in 2018);
    • Clarifies the use of unelected title II funds;
    • Eliminates the merchantable timber pilot requirement (note:  this was never implemented by the Forest Service, and the Forest Service support its deletion);
    • Clarifies, through a technical fix, the availability of funds per section 207(d)(2);
    • Extends the time available to initiate title II projects and obligate funds for the 2-year reauthorization;
    • Title II and III Elections: For the 2-Year reauthorization, there won’t be enough time to go through the administrative process of the counties changing their elections and still getting their payments on time, so for reauthorization, the counties have to stick with their current elections.  
  • Executive Order on Federal Overreach (Regulations) in Education: President Trump signed an executive order (read it here) that directs USED and Secretary DeVOs to study “where the federal government has unlawfully overstepped on state and local control." Given the restrictions on federal authority in ESSA, the executive order has for the most part been perceived as more symbolic than substantive, at least on first impression.S.945 New HOPE Act (Cornyn – TX) Introduced April 26th, a bill to amend the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 


May 3, 2017

(SCHOOL NUTRITION) Permanent link

School Meal Standards Addressed

On Monday, USDA Secretary Purdue signed a proclamation regarding the school meal standards ushered in through the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act. Despite the outcry by many nutrition advocacy groups, these changes are little more than staying with the status quo. Because of the proclamation, sodium limits will stay at Target I, where they currently are, and scheduled increases in the limits have been postponed indefinitely. In other words, your sodium rules will remain the same. Similarly, whole grain requirements will remain at 100%, but the proclamation extended the existing opportunity to apply for a need-based waiver to reduce those limits to 50%. Again, the requirements for most schools will remain the same as are currently. However, if you have not yet applied for a need-based waiver and believe your district would be eligible for that waiver, you have another chance to do so. The biggest substantive change was the allowance for schools to serve flavored 1% milk. 

Secretary Purdue seems willing to listen to requests for further increases in flexibility, but did not make any promises further.

April 24, 2017


Webinar: The Community Eligibility Provision in Rural Schools

We are excited to be hosting a webinar with FRAC and NREA to discuss the Community Eligibility Provision in rural schools. The Community Eligibility Provision allows high-need schools and districts to offer meals at no cost to all students and eliminates the need for household school meal applications. Schools that implement community eligibility often see increased participation in the  School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program and reduced paperwork burden. Schools in rural communities are an important access point for nutritious meals for low-income students and offering meals through community eligibility can help ensure students have access to the healthy meals they need to succeed.

The webinar will be held Monday, May 8 at 1:00 ET. You can register for the free webinar here.

January 10, 2017


AASA Releases Transition Memo

As the new year, new Congress, and new administration get under way, AASA shares its transition memo, identifying areas where the Trump administration could take steps that work to strengthen and support the nation's public schools.

The text of the transition memo is below, or you can read the PDF version.

Please direct any questions to the AASA advocacy team (Noelle Ellerson Ng, Sasha Pudelski, or Leslie Finnan).


Dear President-Elect Trump,

As you begin to think more deeply about your policies and priorities for improving the education of students in the United States, AASA, The School Superintendents Association stands ready to work with you and your Secretaries to ensure the 13,000 school districts we represent and the children they educate are well-served by your Administration. Throughout our more than 150 years, AASA has advocated for the highest quality public education for all students, and provided programing to develop and support school system leaders. AASA members advance the goals of public education and champion children’s causes in their districts and nationwide. 

Given that less than 10 percent of our budgets are derived from federal dollars, we strongly support increased local control over education decisions. We championed the recently enacted Every Student Succeeds Act for many specific reasons, but most generally for taking the pendulum of federal overreach and prescription rampant under No Child Left Behind and swinging it firmly back to state and local control. AASA believes there is a critical role for the federal government in improving K-12 education, but that role is meant to strengthen and support our public schools, not dictate to them. We write to delineate the policy areas in which we believe the Trump Administration can do just that: support and strengthen our public schools. The following outlines our sincere suggestions for areas where we think your administration’s leadership is most important.

Provide states and school districts with flexibility to implement ESSA

State and local education agencies are deeply involved in efforts to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). As regulations, guidance and technical assistance designed to support implementation have been released by the Obama administration, certain proposals have run counter to the spirit and intent of the underlying statute and act to undermine the state and local flexibility intended by law makers. One of the best examples of this is within the proposed regulations for the law’s Title I ‘Supplement, Not Supplant’ (SNS) provisions. Title I was designed to be a flexible program, giving school districts and schools latitude to spend Title I funds on a broad array of educational services as long as they are consistent with the program’s purposes. The SNS rule as it is currently drafted substantially limits how school districts and schools may allocate resources, restricting and even undermining the ways in which Title I can support at-risk students. The proposal glosses over the realities of school finance, the reality of how and when funds are allocated, the extent to which districts do or do not have complete flexibility, the patterns of teacher sorting and hiring, and the likelihood that many students would experience the rule, as drafted, in a way that undermines intentional, evidence-based efforts aimed at increasing education equity. The proposal will restrict—rather than support—the ways in which state and local resources can be used to most effectively and equitably support at-risk students.

What you can do: We believe that a simple path the administration could follow in supporting state and local flexibility is to default to the underlying statute (which includes a test auditors could use) and refrain from additional unnecessary prescription. 

Reduce the administrative burden on districts

Increases each year in the amount of data requested by the Obama Administration has become the norm for school leaders. This surge in data collection has been particularly difficult for small, rural school districts to meet. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has been particularly to blame for the uptick in data collection through changes made to the Civil Rights Data Collection. In its last iteration for the 2015-2016 school year, the Department increased data collection by 17 percent.  Prior to the Obama Administration, the data was not required to be collected by all districts. In particular, smaller districts were exempt from participating in the collection every two years given the enormous burden it imposed. The Obama Administration chose to remove this exemption and require every district to submit data regardless of the size of district or burden this imposed.  

What you can do: We believe a simple and meaningful change your administration could make is to reduce the data points collected by the Civil Rights Data Collection to the most critical items necessary for monitoring compliance with the Title IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act. Further, the Department could return to the practice of the Bush Administration and revert to the traditional sampling procedures (stratification, estimation, etc.) that were used previously to survey districts for compliance. Further, require an internal audit of all data that is collected by the U.S. Department of Education in every division of the Department and ensure this data is legislatively mandated, non-duplicative and utilized in a manner that could benefit K12 students. Specifically, request that Department personnel whether any current data collection is focused on answering the question ‘Should we be collecting this data?’

Undo financially destructive regulations and absolve unfunded mandates

Since its inception in 1975, IDEA has protected students with disabilities by ensuring access to a free appropriate public education.  At the time the statute was enacted, Congress promised to pay 40 percent of the National Average per Pupil Expenditure. While special education funding has received significant increases over the past 15 years, including a one-time infusion of funds included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, federal funding has leveled off recently and has even been cut. The closest the federal government has come to reaching its 40 percent commitment through annual appropriations was 18 percent in 2005. The chronic underfunding of IDEA by the federal government places an additional funding burden on states and local school districts to pay for needed services.  This often means using local budget dollars to cover the federal shortfall, shortchanging other school programs that students with disabilities often also benefit from. 

To exacerbate special education funding shortfalls, on December 12, 2016, the Obama Administration issued a new IDEA regulation that would have profound financial implications for districts. This regulation attempts to re-write the statute of IDEA pertaining to findings of significant racial and ethnic disproportionality in special education. While AASA believes this aspect of the statute is critically important, we think that the Administration has misinterpreted what the statute says and allows the Department of Education to amend it in ways that are not legally sound. In particular, USED will require states to impose a specific methodology to determine what districts have significant racial and ethnic disproportionality. If the Department’s estimate is to be believed, between 300 and 500 million dollars allocated to districts to provide direct services to students with disabilities would have to be utilized differently. 

What you can do: In your first budget as President, address this unfunded mandate and pledge to work with Congress and OMB to create a path towards fully funding IDEA. If that can’t be accomplished, support changes to IDEA that would allow districts flexibility in reducing their local investment in special education if they can find more efficient ways of serving students with disabilities. Given the underfunding of IDEA discussed above, we ask that you rescind the regulation immediately and urge Congress to take up the reauthorization of IDEA to address significant racial and ethnic disproportionality in special education. 

Support rural school leaders and students

Rural school districts were not well-served by the Obama Administration. The dissemination of hundreds of millions of dollars through competitive programs like Race-To-The-Top and the Investing in Innovation led to few rural districts receiving any assistance during a significant economic downturn. Furthermore, the increased administrative burden documented below, exacerbated by cuts in federal funding proved to be a double hit for rural school districts. While the Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP) was preserved under the Obama Administration they did propose setting aside an unspecified amount of REAP dollars to provide competitive grants to innovative rural districts. The REAP program is a critical formula funding source for rural communities because it levels the playing field for small and high-poverty rural districts. 

What you can do: Support federal policy that flexibly supports the unique needs of rural communities, including REAP, Impact Aid, and Forest Counties, among others. REAP, in particular, helps districts overcome the additional costs associated with their geographic isolation, smaller number of students, higher transportation and employee benefit costs, and increased poverty. Funding REAP helps offset the impact of formula cuts and competitive dollars for small rural districts. Oppose attempts to distribute federal funding through competition, which inherently disadvantages rural districts who lack the resources and personnel to compete for funding. Create an Office of Rural Education Policy within the Department of Education to ensure that rural schools and communities are appropriately supported by the Department and considered in any discussion of new or existing education policies.

Ensure Higher Education regulations don’t burden local school districts 

On October 12, 2016, the Department of Education released final regulations regarding the evaluation of teacher preparation programs. These regulations require principals and school administrators to complete surveys and track and disseminate student outcomes for teachers in their schools who have graduated from a state teacher preparation program within the last three years. Besides adding an unprecedented and unfunded new burden to LEAs in the guise of improving teacher preparation programs regulated by the Higher Education Act this creates an unhealthy incentive to send graduating teachers to schools where students will do the best and may only exacerbate the current teacher shortage prevalent across the U.S. It could also create problems with the privacy and use of student data and new demands for data sharing across K12 and higher education institutions that are not technically realistic in some states.

What you can do: Reverse these regulations, and support a reauthorized Higher Education Act that does not place unnecessary burdens on the K-12 school system.

Avoid unnecessary environmental regulations

The Obama administration has made efforts to regulate school building materials, despite evidence that such regulations would not provide great enough benefit to justify the cost burden. Specifically, a rule will likely be proposed to require school and day care facilities to remove any florescent light ballast containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), flame retardant chemicals used until they were banned in 1979. Few schools still contain light ballasts with these chemicals, and most of those that do have already scheduled their removal.

What you can do: Do not continue with this or other similar regulations. Please be sure to consult with AASA and other similar groups before imposing regulations that would cause great cost burdens on already struggling school systems. 

Rebuild America’s schools

A strong K-12 public school infrastructure is essential if we hope to be globally competitive. Teachers cannot teach and students cannot be expected to learn in school facilities that are physically unsafe, or that lack functioning bathrooms or appropriate heating and cooling systems. Unfortunately, this is the state of too many of our school buildings across the U.S. According to the 2016 State of Our Schools Report, from FY1994-FY2013, school districts and states spent an average annually of $46 billion on utilities, operations, maintenance, and repair from their operating budgets; an average of $12 billion  per year on interest on long term debt—mostly for school construction bonds; and about $50 billion per year for capital construction from their capital budgets for new construction, facilities alterations, system and component renewals, and reducing the accumulation of deferred maintenance. The National Council on School facilities estimates that the nation's districts need to spend about $77 billion annually to modernize school buildings. 

What you can do: Ensure your infrastructure plan addresses the infrastructure needs of school districts. 

Align the K12 education system with skills demanded in workplaces

Last Congress, the House passed legislation to modernize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. The Senate was unable to act last fall despite a vote of 405-5 in the House to pass the bill.  The federal government’s most significant K-12 investment is in career and technical education. Yet, in some places there remains a disconnect between the education students receive in high school and their employment options. We must address this gap by passing a comprehensive reauthorization of the Perkins CTE Act that will strengthen the bonds between business/industry and K12 districts and higher education institutions. School leaders must have data that informs them about what major employers are moving in/out of states and how our high schools can help them meet their workforce needs. We also need to invest more in CTE at the federal level. Under the Obama Administration, Perkins CTE funding fell by 13%. 

What you can do: Recommend greater funding for Carl D Perkins CTE to ensure school districts have the equipment, curriculum and appropriate personnel to offer the courses students need. Urge both chambers to work together to pass a bipartisan CTE reauthorization bill that continues the trend of reducing the federal footprint in K12 education policy.

Support and strengthen school lunch and breakfast programs 

The National School Lunch Act was first implemented in 1946 to ensure students had access to at least one healthy meal per day. It was designed as a fully federally funded program. The 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act ushered in a dramatic change in how school food services are provided. The strict meal standards have posed a financial and practical burden on many districts throughout the country. The new legislation offered a 6¢ per meal increase, though estimates have shown that the new standards increased costs by 35¢ per meal. While AASA would not support a full repeal of these standards, as much great work has been done to improve the provision of healthy meals, we do support tweaking the most problematic standards to provide relief to those districts having the most trouble meeting the new standards.

What you can do: Support legislation that provides common-sense changes to the nutrition standards, so schools can focus on feeding their students.  Support legislation that increases the federal investment in school lunch and breakfast programs. 

Support public education

While it’s clear that your Administration would like to prioritize expanding private school vouchers, in any and all forms, to students we urge you to consider the practical and financial implications of redirecting current federal K12 funding away from the public school system that must serve all students. There are currently 50.4 million students that attend public elementary and secondary schools in the United States. Even if vouchers were adopted widely as you propose, public education would remain our primary system; in states with voucher systems, most students would continue to attend public schools. Moreover, voucher programs are an ineffective and damaging education policy. Study after study has shown that private school vouchers do not improve student achievement or provide greater opportunities for the low-income students they purport to serve. Private voucher schools do not provide the same rights and protections to students as public schools, such as those in Titles VI and IX of the Civil Rights Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Every Student Succeeds Act. Private school voucher programs do not offer real choice as most state-voucher systems allow private schools to reject students with vouchers for a variety of reasons, ranging from disability, disciplinary history, English proficiency to ability to pay. Private school vouchers also do not save taxpayer money. In voucher programs, the public schools from which students leave for private voucher schools are spread throughout a school district. The reduction in students from each public school, therefore, is usually negligible and does not decrease operating costs of those public schools. That is one of the reasons why some voucher programs have resulted in multi-million dollar deficits and tax increases. To the extent that non-public schools would have access to federal dollars, all entities receiving public dollars must face the same transparency, reporting and accountability requirements.

As President it is incumbent that you ensure all students have access to quality public schools and that in a broader conversation of school choice, the focus is on ensuring that the nation’s public schools remain a high-quality and viable option for all families. 

What you can do: Ensure that the U.S. Department of Education promotes effective education policies and programs designed to strengthen and support our nation’s public schools and directs resources to local school districts to improve the education of the 50.4 million students that attend public elementary and secondary schools.

In closing, we look forward to working with you and your administration to provide all our nation’s students with  excellent public education opportunities and welcome the opportunity to meet to discuss these priorities further. 

August 23, 2016(1)


Mini Grant Opportunity: Expand School Breakfast Program

This grant opportunity comes from the AASA Children's Programs Department. All applications are due by September 2. Please direct questions to Rebecca Shaw (rshaw@aasa.org). 

Introduction: AASA, The School Superintendents Association is the nation’s oldest and largest organization of school district leaders, with nearly 9,000 members and affiliate organizations in 49 states.  AASA has funding from the Walmart Foundation to provide mini-grants to school districts to increase school breakfast participation using alternative breakfast strategies. The main goal of the initiative is to increase the number of low-income students who eat breakfast in these districts. We also anticipate that the leadership, interest, commitment and involvement of school superintendents regarding alternative school breakfast strategies will be enhanced.

Grant Overview: AASA will provide mini-grants to school districts to increase school breakfast participation through alternative serving methods. This means that a school will serve Breakfast in the Classroom in elementary schools and/or Second Chance or Grab’N’Go (e.g., kiosks, vending machines, second chance) in middle and high schools. Awards shall not exceed $15,000 and shall to be used to support school breakfast infrastructure (bags, kiosks, storage, etc.). Each district will receive technical assistance from AASA staff and other superintendents and food service directors who have successfully implemented alternative breakfast strategies if requested. The amount of the award will be based on the quality and scope of the application, including superintendent and principal commitment and buy-in to the strategies selected, district need, project reach, and creativity and innovation to increase average daily participation and improve food and nutritional quality.

Eligibility Criteria: Please note the following eligibility requirements. 

  • The school district superintendent must be a member of AASA at time of application submission. (See http://my.aasa.org/AASA/MyAASA/Join-AASA.aspx if the superintendent is not a member.)
  • Proposed schools in which the district will work must have a 50% or greater eligibility overall for free and reduced-priced meals or participate in the CEP program.
  • Average breakfast participation of the schools participating in this program must be at or below 40%.
  • District must have written support/backing from the superintendent, district food service director and principals of participating schools.
  • Alternative breakfast model selection should include the “best practice” of Breakfast in the Classroom for elementary schools and “Grab’n’Go” (including Second Chance) for middle and high schools.

 Award Information:  

  • The amount of the award will be based on:
    • Full support of district superintendent to implement alternative school breakfast.
    • Project scope and reach, creativity, potential increases in average daily participation rates, and food and nutritional quality.
    • Using a “best practice” alternative school breakfast model.
    • District need.
  • Examples of funding including:
    • Equipment to facilitate alternative breakfast model (i.e. insulated bags, carts, kiosks, garbage bags, trash cans, wireless POS machines, etc.).
    • Kitchen equipment to help increase food quality (i.e. freezers, refrigerators, storage, etc.).
    • Nutrition education materials.
    • Advertising materials to promote program.
    • Giveaways for student participation and school-level staff buy-in.
  • Funding cannot be used for:
    • Salaries
    • Food
    • Overhead (indirect)
    • Memberships
    • Consultants 

Grant Application Timeline:  

  • Application Deadline: September 2, 2016
  • Grantee awards notification: September 9, 2016
  • Breakfast program implementation: Fall semester, 2016
  • Final reporting to AASA: January, 2017 (December ADP)

You can access the full grant application here.

If you have questions before submitting the application, please email Rebecca Shaw. Project Coordinator (rshaw@aasa.org ).  

August 3, 2016

(SCHOOL NUTRITION) Permanent link

Competitive Foods Final Rule

In July, the USDA, under which school nutrition programs lie, released the final rule regarding competitive foods, or any food sold on school grounds outside the reimbursable meal. This final rule makes very few changes from the interim rule released in 2013, meaning your schools’ competitive foods programs will remain largely unchanged. You’ll recall that we have been talking about school nutrition recently, as reauthorization bills have been moving in both the House and the Senate. Regulations like these underscore the need for a solid reauthorization, as that would be the only way to get any reprieve from the onerous rules of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Our talking points for this reauthorization are available here. If you talk to your members of Congress as they are home for campaigning recess, please be sure to tell your Senators not to support pushing the Senate bill through, as it would lead to increased administrative burden and would not provide any relief from the standards. 

AASA’s statement on the final competitive foods rule is:

AASA supports the overall goals to end childhood hunger and address the epidemic of childhood obesity in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and is currently working to support a reauthorization bill that would strengthen school nutrition programs. School superintendents understand the importance of fostering a healthy and positive learning environment, but these regulations come as unfunded mandates with significant cost impacts, forcing LEAs to make difficult choices in an era of extended underfunding of public schools.

AASA strongly supports the role of good nutrition for all students and recognizes its important role in helping advance student achievement. Every day, school districts across the nation provide millions of school-based meals, both breakfast and lunch. We recognize that the intention of this rule was to regulate competitive foods within schools. Unfortunately, we find it imposes an unprecedented expansion of regulation in an area that had previously been under state and local control. Further, this regulation comes without any federal resources to support the required compliance. AASA is opposed to the unfunded mandate this proposed rule represents to our nation’s schools.

In particular, we are most concerned about the complicated rules around when an item can or cannot be served a la carte. Given the extensive regulations of meals served as part of the school lunch and breakfast programs, AASA believes that further regulations on the sale of these items a la carte is unnecessarily burdensome. If an entrée is healthy enough to be served as a part of the reimbursable meal, it should be healthy enough to be served a la carte on any day of the week.

As written, the current law and regulations cause good nutrition policy to fail because the provisions make the program fiscally impossible in these tough economic times. The law and its regulations should not put LEAs in the position of having to choose between covering the federal funding shortfall and funding an instructional position. Little attention has been focused on the drain of local school district funds to pay for or offset the continuing un-funded costs of the federal free and reduced-priced school meals, and AASA is concerned that this rule compounds this problem.

School superintendents simply request that the role of the federal government as it relates to competitive foods in schools be proportional to the amount of resources it provides to support the regulations. As the federal government currently does not provide funds—and this regulation provides no resources—for competitive foods, there is not a role for federal policy to dictate competitive food policy in school districts.  Either provide the resources required to cover the costs associated with the new competitive food regulations or refrain from imposing new federal requirements. 



July 12, 2016


Legislative Advocacy Conference Materials

Our legislative advocacy conference is now in full swing! To those of you joining us, it is great having you here! We are excited to send you all to the Hill tomorrow. The resources we have shared are all available here:

Advocacy Update Slideshow

Talking points:

After your meetings on the Hill, be sure to let us know how they went and give us any feedback on the conference here: http://goo.gl/forms/PKps6rs1w7KxUUh52 and be sure to tweet out pictures and stories using #AASAAdv.

We hope you have a great day on the Hill. If you have any questions or want some company, please be sure to call/email/find us!

 If you are not able to join us this year, I hope you consider coming next year – we’re having a great time!

May 17, 2016(1)

(SCHOOL NUTRITION) Permanent link

AASA Supports the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act

Tomorrow, the House Education and the Workforce Committee will mark up the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act, to reauthorize what is now the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. This bill will improve the nutrition standards by requiring a study of any regulations taking into account their impact on cost, participation and nutrition of students to ensure that the standards do not increase the cost of a meal past the federal reimbursement rate and do not cause students who would otherwise eat at school to eat elsewhere. The bill also includes a 3 cent per meal increase for breakfast reimbursement and changes the review period from every three years to every five years, cutting down on administrative time. 

AASA does have three concerns with the bill. As with the Senate bill, it increases the required verification of free and reduced price lunch eligibility, it raises the threshold for the Community Eligibility Provision from 40 percent to 60 percent, and it includes a pilot program that would essentially block grant school nutrition funding for three states while exempting them from all federal mandates. We will work with the committee and the Senate to ensure a final bill best allows districts to run their nutrition programs effectively and efficiently. 

Our letter of support is available here

April 21, 2016

(SCHOOL NUTRITION) Permanent link

AASA Supports House Bill to Reauthorize Child Nutrition Act

Today, AASA sent the following statement to support the House bill to reauthorize the child nutrition act.

AASA, The School Superintendents Association, is pleased to support the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 (H.R. 5003). Providing healthy meals and snack options for school children is critical. AASAs’ members are proud of their strong nutrition programs and are looking for a reauthorization that provides districts with increased flexibility from certain elements of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. The nutrition study, as prescribed in this bill, takes the politics out of the standards and keeps the focus where it belongs: on what is best for our nation’s schools and students.

David R. Schuler, AASA president and superintendent of High School District 214 in Arlington Heights, Ill, and Daniel A. Domenech, AASA executive director, issued the following statements:  

“I strive to serve my students nutritious meals, but the current nutrition standards, as written, are so burdensome that I had to withdraw from the federal nutrition program and find other ways to feed my students. The flexibilities allowed and the changes that may come through this bill will provide some much-needed relief to districts around the country struggling to balance the needs of their students and the regulations from DC.” – David R. Schuler

AASA has deep concerns over the changes to the Community Eligibility Provision eligibility threshold and the increase in verification of free and reduced price lunch eligibility.

“This bill is a step in the right direction and we look forward to working with the committee to make further improvements to the legislation. We are pleased to see the continued investment in school meals and focus on supporting schools and districts over politics, and hope to work with the committee to pass a bill we can continue to support.” – Daniel A. Domenech 

April 20, 2016

(SCHOOL NUTRITION) Permanent link

AASA Joins National Organizations in Response to Proposed Changes to Community Eligibility Provision

On Tuesday, April 19 AASA joined the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the School Nutrition Association (SNA), the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) for a Congressional briefing on the Community Eligibility Provision. This program is a powerful federal option that enables high-poverty schools and districts to provide breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge.

Enacted in the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and available nationwide since school year 2014–15, Community Eligibility has been adopted in more than 18,000 high-poverty schools in nearly 3,000 school districts, reaching more than 8.5 million students, according to a new report from FRAC and CBPP.  As it considers reauthorizing the child nutrition bill, the U.S. House of Representatives has proposed to change the rules for eligibility for CEP. Currently, schools and districts with more than 40 percent of students identified for free and reduced price lunch eligibility through direct certification (such as through SNAP or TANF) are eligible. The House proposal is to change that threshold to 60 percent, which would cause 7,000 schools around the country to lose eligibility.

The briefing kicked off with a welcome from AAP President Benard Dreyer and Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA), House Education and the Workforce Committee. Both expressed the extreme need for CEP, and how we can move it forward, instead of going backwards on school meals for students.

“CEP is helping schools, it’s helping teachers and, above all, it’s helping address child poverty and reduce the stigma associated with being a child who is food insecure,” said Dreyer.

Congressman Scott, a CEP champion and a leader for access to quality early-, secondary- and higher-education for all of America’s children, said “If you have [CEP], you don’t have the stigma of people having to qualify for free and reduced lunch and produce paperwork at the checkout counter that identifies them as low or moderate income and it just makes it much better.”

“We have a report that goes into detail about the good of the Community Eligibility Provision and why it needs to be maintained – and maybe even improved – but certainly not go backwards because education is at risk and the wellbeing of millions of children,” said Scott.

In addition to providing an overview of the Community Eligibility Provision, a panel of education leaders was also there to share their experiences with the program, and what it would mean for the enrolled schools if the program was taken away. The group included Vonda Cooke, director of child nutrition programs, Pennsylvania Department of Education; Lisa Kyer, business administrator, Lansingburgh Central School District (N.Y.); and Morris Leis, superintendent, Coffee County School System (Ga.).

AASA member Superintendent Morris Leis implemented the program in his district in 2014 and has provided students in 11 of his 12 schools with free breakfast and lunch since. If the proposed eligibility changes are made, six of his schools will no longer be able to remain in the program.

“The CEP is changing lives in a positive way in our community,” said Leis. “The things that are happening because of this program are amazing.”

The community in Coffee County is made up of 43,000 people, which includes 7,700 students that are being educated in the district’s 12 schools. 75 percent of those students are considered economically disadvantaged.

“We’re finishing our second year of CEP and if these changes go through, six of our schools will no longer be eligible,” said Leis. “We’ve got a lot of [students] who fall above the threshold for free and reduced [lunch], but if we didn’t have this program their children wouldn’t eat.”

According to Leis, in the middle school, prior to this program, students simply would not eat because they didn’t want the stigma of being a student eating a free lunch.

Since implementation of CEP, Leis said that students are going to the cafeteria to eat and that the entire school atmosphere has changed tremendously.

“Kids are eating and the whole strata of ‘free,’ ‘reduced’ and ‘paid’ is gone. They’re all the same,” said Leis.

The mission of Coffee County School System is to provide an equitable and excellent education for every student – which is being done through CEP.

“We provide [students] books, we provide them with transportation, we have nice buildings for them to come to, we have good teachers to teach them - and under the old system we’d get them here and make them pay for lunch,” said Leis. “Well now with CEP, we don’t classify. We have equity in our school system.”

For more information on the Community Eligibility Provision, visit frac.org.

January 20,2016

(SCHOOL NUTRITION) Permanent link

Child Nutrition Reauthorization Moving in the Senate

Today, the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously passed the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act, a bill to reauthorize the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, through markup. The bill is expected to be fast tracked to the Senate floor, as they are hoping to pass the bill quickly before election season makes action difficult on the Hill. 

AASA opposed the bill as introduced. While it does provide some additional flexibility, these do not outweigh the increased administrative burden placed by other changes in the bill, and many could be better done through regulation. We hope to save the reauthorization process for a more comprehensive compromise.

October 27, 2015

(SCHOOL NUTRITION) Permanent link

AASA Urges School Nutrition Flexibility

Yesterday, AASA, along with the School Nutrition Association, sent a letter to the Hill urging members to reauthorize the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to provide schools with much-needed flexibility. The letter illuminates the higher costs associated with the new standards and the challenges found in a recent GAO report. 

The letter is available here