December 5, 2019

(THE ADVOCATE) Permanent link

The December Advocate

Each month, the AASA policy and advocacy team writes an article that is shared with our state association executive directors, which they can run in their state newsletters as a way to build a direct link between AASA and our affiliates as well as AASA advocacy and our superintendents. The article is called The Advocate, and here is the December 2019 edition.

This November, the Environmental Protection Agency announced new provisions to the Lead and Copper Pipe Rule (LCR), which, for the first time, dictates how Community Water Systems (CWS) test for the prevalence of lead in schools’ and childcare centers’ drinking water.

The EPA proposal would require Community Water Systems to collect samples from five drinking water outlets at each school and two drinking water outlets at each childcare facility served by the CWS. This rule will signify the first federal regulation dictating how schools must test for lead since the passage of the LCR in 1981.

This regulation has the potential to be helpful to districts. Seventeen states have no laws requiring that all schools test for lead in drinking water and this will be a positive step in the right direction for school leaders in those states. However, the revised rule doesn’t go far enough to ensure that school leaders are given an accurate picture of the safety of their students’ drinking water.

The regulation fails to outline effective lead testing procedures for CWS’s that serve public schools and childcare facilities, which could lead to confusion and false negatives for superintendents who are trying to interpret, inform and remediate lead testing results for their students and communities.

Specifically, the rule would require CWS’s that serve a public school or childcare facility to alert school system leaders to any testing results that score above the EPA’s 15 micrograms of lead per liter of water (15 ppb) action level. While this does signify an improvement from the status quo, we’re concerned that this criterion could mislead school system leaders into believing their water systems are safe for consumption.

The reason for this goes back to the establishment of the action level in 1991. During that time, the EPA created the action level under the rationale that it was a realistic metric of compliance for CWS’s. At the time, the EPA also acknowledged that there was no established safe level of lead exposure, and since then, has put forth research indicating that even low lead blood levels in children highly correlate to physical and neurological disabilities.

Considering this research and the expanded scope of the LCR to test schools and childcare facilities, it is incomprehensible that the EPA has not adopted a more stringent action threshold in the 28 years since its implementation.

Moreover, the EPA’s action level is practically useless because the testing results do not show superintendents whether their schools’ drinking water is safe. Instead, the test indicates whether a CWS is complying with the 15ppb action level. This is a borderline negligent misstep by the EPA, as it could cause superintendents, who are looking to be transparent with lead testing results, to unknowingly misrepresent the safety of their drinking water.   

In response, AASA is advocating for the EPA to fix this flaw by urging the agency to adopt a 1 ppb standard for lead in schools’ drinking water and share guidance to any district that undergoes lead testing. Additionally, we are imploring the EPA to continue working with the U.S. Dept. of Education to develop strategies that help LEAs properly communicate lead testing results to their stakeholders.

Similarly to the EPA’s action level, there are also flaws with the proposed regulation’s lead testing procedures for CWS’s. While the multiple testing requirements are a step in the right direction, it is not enough since the corrosion and breaking off of lead particles from pipes can be highly variable.

According to Environment America's 2019 report, “Get the Lead Out,” multiple water tests from one tap can result in highly variable lead levels between samples. For example, in a lead sampling study conducted in 2013, researchers concluded that a single sample from a water tap could not accurately reflect the levels of lead flowing through the fixture. Consequently, this means that depending on multiple variables (e.g., weather, time of day, or location of an outlet), LEAs may receive inaccurate results from federal lead testing. To address the variability of lead testing, AASA is pushing the EPA to amend the rule so that CWS’s must test all water drinking outlets in a district to ensure our members have access to the most accurate information.

Finally, AASA is concerned about the lack of federal funding that is available to implement these new testing provisions for LEAs that act as their own CWS. According to the EPA, approximately 7,000 schools control their water supply (such as a well) and are regulated under the LCR. For these entities, the new provisions of the LCR could create financial hardships for LEAs with limited resources.

In addition, for districts that discover that there is lead in their water, there is no funding for remediation at the federal level that they can access. They would have to dip into local education funding to acquire filters, replace faucets and fountains and take other steps to get the lead out. At a minimum the EPA should include a list of federal and state funding resources for LEAs that independently conduct their lead testing and that may have to remove lead from water systems when it is found.

However, we also believe it’s imperative that EPA and the Administration propose new funding to help schools fix the problem - i.e., install filters, replace lead-bearing fixtures, etc.

Overall, AASA believes this regulation is a long overdue step in the right direction, but feels the rule falls short of ensuring children and school personnel are not exposed to lead in schools. However, by amending the action level to 1ppb, increasing LEAs’ access to lead testing guidance, improving testing procedures for CWS’s, and making funding materials more available to districts, this proposal has the potential to ensure greater steps are taken to improve the safety of drinking water at public schools and childcare facilities.

AASA will comment on the NPRM before the closing date on January 13, 2020. We will provide a template on the Leading Edge Blog for you to comment as well. We hope you take a moment to weigh in on this important regulation.

 

November 1, 2019

(THE ADVOCATE) Permanent link

November Advocate

 

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 November 2019 edition

This year negotiations began to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), which is the authorizing statute that determines the policies, procedures, and practices of the nation's higher education system. HEA is supposed to be reauthorized every 6-7 years and was last updated in 2008. Given the amount of time since the last comprehensive HEA reauthorization, lawmakers on Capitol Hill were eager to dust off the law that governs the nation’s higher education system and implement long-awaited administrative and programmatic changes that have been called for by policymakers on both sides of the aisle. Unlike previous HEA reauthorizations, the process this year began in the Senate as Chairman Lamar Alexander of the Health Education and Labor (HELP) Committee announced his retirement in 2020 and is seeking one last victory before leaving office.

Early in the process, Alexander indicated that he was committed to conducting bipartisan negotiations with Ranking Member Patty Murray. However, outstanding issues over Title II (teacher prep), Title IV (student aid), and Title IX (sexual assault and harassment guidance) effectively ended any bipartisan will to update HEA in the Senate. With his back against the wall, Alexander took an unprecedented move of introducing a piecemeal HEA package, dubbed The Student Aid Improvement Act, in an attempt to advance his bipartisan priorities of simplifying FASFA, increase the transparency of the cost of college, and extend Pell to short-term programs and incarcerated individuals. Furthermore, he also attached his HEA priorities with a separate $255 million bipartisan funding bill for black colleges and universities, and other minority-serving institutions to bypass negotiations with Senate Democrats. In response, Murray announced that the Democrats had no interest in a piecemeal approach, thereby kicking the can to the House.

On the House side, Chairman Bobby Scott of the Education and Labor committee released his comprehensive partisan reauthorization of HEA in October—called the College Affordability Act—after seemingly waiting for Alexander to make a move and several months of negotiations with other House Democrats. Similarly, to Scott’s 2018 Aim Higher Act, the bill takes substantial steps towards improving the affordability of post-secondary programs for all students, while also delivering on a set of liberal lawmakers' Higher Ed priorities. After reviewing the 1,000+ page text of the bill, AASA was pleased to find the following updates to the law:

Title II

·       Under Title II of the Act, the bill reauthorizes and expands the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) Grant program, which enables Institutes of Higher Education (IHE) and State Education Agencies (SEA) to partner with a high needs Local Education Agency (LEA) to create cohort-based teacher residency models that offer students clinical experience in school settings. Specifically, the Act expands the allowable use of TQP grants to develop school leader preparation programs (e.g., superintendent and principal pipelines); empowers TQP grantees to develop "Grow Your Own" partnerships for recruiting and supporting diverse paraprofessionals in gaining professional teaching certifications; and, increases the authorized spending level of the program to $500,000,000.

Title IV

·       Under Title IV, lawmakers made significant changes to the U.S. Dept. of Education TEACH Grant program by redirecting the grant’s aid to junior and senior teacher prep candidates and expanding the maximum award amount to $8,000 per year. Furthermore, the bill also tackles critiques of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program by including language in the act to create one Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan that addresses the public's confusion about how to qualify for PSLF. House Dems also threw educators a win by streamlining PSLF so that teachers can count loan payments for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program at the same time as PSLF, which reduces the number of monthly payments that educators need to make to qualify for loan forgiveness.

·       Additionally, under Title IV the bill encourages historically underrepresented student groups to earn college credits early by increasing the authorized spending level of the TRIO and GEAR UP programs to $1.2B. Moreover, the law emphasizes college completion by allocating additional funding to states so that students can access early credit pathways such as dual enrollment, early college high schools, and AP and IB and programs. Finally, the bill expands access to post-secondary programs by simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Title IX 

·       Also, of importance to superintendents, the bill directs the Secretary of Education to abandon the U.S. ED's regulatory efforts to weaken existing Title IX guidance to IHEs and LEAs.

 

Following the release of the College Affordability Act, the bill was marked-up by the House Education Committee in the last week in October. AASA submitted a letter in favor of the legislation despite the fact that it was a highly partisan legislative product. During the mark-up Republicans expressed strong opposition to the bill, criticizing its $400,000,000 price tag as well as the bill's emphasis on four-year degrees. Still, House Democrats succeeded in advancing H.R. 4674 out of the Education and Labor Committee on a vote that was split down party lines (28-22). At this point, the measure is headed to the House floor for a final vote before it can move to the Senate, which according to reports, Scott hopes occurs sometime before 2020. That said, it’s unlikely that the College Affordability Act will advance any further once it hits the Senate, considering that the upper chamber is still under the GOP's control, and the act is far too progressive for rank and file Republican Senators. Moreover, depending on how the impeachment inquiry proceeds, much of the political breath on Capitol Hill is expected to be spent on prosecuting or defending President Trump. Consequently, this will leave little time for legislative matters. That said, AASA will keep you abreast on all the latest higher ed updates, so stay tuned!

 

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.

March 15, 2019

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

AASA Analysis of Trump FY20 Budget Proposal

On March 11, President Trump released his FY20 budget proposal, his plan/strategy/priorities for federal funding in FY20 (which starts Oct 1 and runs through Sept 30; FY20 education dollars will be in schools during the 2020-21 school year).  It should be noted that this budget is dead on arrival and is a non-starter with Congress, who will do their own bipartisan work to reach a compromise on final FY20 dollars. AASA monitors this proposal out of diligence to all federal funding proposals, but puts little to no stock in the proposal itself. 

You can read the full AASA analysis here.

AASA maintains that a budget, whether that of our organization or the schools that AASA members lead, reflects our mission and priorities: we fund what we support, and we support what we fund. To that end, President Trump’s proposed FY20 budget continues his trend of introducing federal budget proposals that fall short of the simple willingness and ability to prioritize support for strengthening and supporting our nation’s public schools and the students they serve.  

OVERVIEW: The president’s FY20 budget proposal continues his administration’s prioritization of privatization, at the direct expense of the nation’s public schools and the 50 million students they serve every day. The FY20 US Education Department (USED) budget proposal is organized around six major initiatives:

 

  • Increase access to school choice
  • Support high-need students through essential formula grant programs
  • Protect students by promoting safe and secure schools
  • Elevate the teaching profession through innovation
  • Promote workforce development for the 21st century
  • Streamline and improve post-secondary aid programs

 

Overall, the proposal seeks one of the largest-ever cuts to domestic discretionary spending. The proposal cuts non-defense discretionary (NDD) funding from its current level of $597 billion to the FY2020 funding cap of $543 billion (a cut of $54 billion, or 9%). The proposal preserves funding for defense discretionary funding. More specific to education, the FY20 budget proposal for USED provides $64 billion for the federal fiscal year starting October. This is a cut of $7.1 billion (or 10 percent) compared to USED’s final FY19 allocation. The proposal eliminates 29 programs, totaling $6.7 billion, with a significant portion of those cuts targeting programs that support educators, school leaders, literacy and college affordability. The budget proposal uses these cuts to pay for a new federal tuition tax credit (voucher), funded at $5 billion in FY20 and at $50 billion total over ten years, as well as increases for the DC Opportunity Scholarship voucher. At the 30,000 foot level, the AASA response to the proposed FY20 budget is a reiteration of our commitment to equity in education, to the idea that all students deserve a robust high-quality education, and to the belief that our nation’s public schools are best positioned to achieve this unparalleled national priority. We subscribe to the idea that ‘When our students succeed, our nation succeeds’ and as such, believe that federal investment is critical to helping to level the playing field for our nation’s neediest students. The limited federal dollars, though a small share of overall education funding, yield a mighty impact when purposefully invested.

AASA outright opposes the president’s FY20 budget proposal, for myriad reasons: for its flawed premise; for its failure to resolve the funding pressures of sequester; for its continued prioritization of privatization; for missing the opportunity to introduce a budget document that is not dead on arrival with Congress; for its blunt cuts to non-defense discretionary funding; and for its disregard for parity between defense and non-defense discretionary funding, among others. AASA welcomes the opportunity to work with Congress to complete a timely, bipartisan, bicameral FY20 budget that raises the federal funding caps, uses FY19 as the base funding level, and supports and strengthens public education. 

August 17, 2018

(ESEA, PERKINS, RURAL EDUCATION, ADVOCACY TOOLS, SCHOOL CHOICE AND VOUCHERS, ED FUNDING, THE ADVOCATE) Permanent link

August Action: No Rest During Recess!

This month, The Advocate is a rehash of the annual advocacy conference and a summary of what summer (August Recess) advocacy can look like. August is a great time for advocacy because your members of Congress are in the home district. This is especially true this year, as a midterm election year, as the members will be spending an even greater amount of time at home through the remainder of the election cycle. The information in this blog post highlights the variety of issues that may come up in conversation, as well as AASA's explicit priorities. 

Every July, AASA holds its annual legislative advocacy conference. This year, it was July 10-12, and more than 200 superintendents and school business officials from across the country came to DC to make the case for continued investment and policy that supports and strengthens the nation’s public schools.
 
2018 is a mid-term election year, one that seems exceptionally partisan and political. Even as things heat up on the campaign trail and Congress begins to turn its attention to home states and home districts over the summer (August) recess and fall rolling up to the November elections, the fact remains there are a bevy of issues that could be impactful and consequential to education. Those issues are the ones that were highlighted during the advocacy conference, and are the ones that you and your fellow educators can use as the basis for any advocacy or outreach you may do during the summer recess and fall, when you may be able to meet with your Congressional delegation while they are home.
 
The education policies that are salient and certain for action are annual appropriations, Perkins Career & Technical Education, Secure Rural Schools/Forest Counties and the Higher Education Act. We also did a quick round up of the other topics that may garner news coverage, come up in conversations in your community, or otherwise emerge on your radar. All of these topics are summarized in our talking points. Use these resources to make the most of the August recess and fall campaign period. Members in the home district are ripe for a visit to a public school, an opportunity to see what the district is doing, what it needs, and how federal policy can bolster the two. We’re bulleting the talking points for our hot issues below, and a fuller summary is available in these talking points. Here’s a quick summary: 
  • Appropriations
    • Thank your members of Congress for the final FY18 package, which provided a $3.9 billion increase to USED, a critical investment that worked to restore the continued pressure of recession cuts. The FY18 allocations must be the starting point for any FY19 discussions. Even with this significant funding increase, the final FY18 allocation is below what it would have been if Congress had level funded USED since FY12 and just adjusted for inflation.
    • AASA and ASBO oppose any effort to direct public dollars to private education. We oppose all vouchers and privatization schema. We ask Congress to continue to prioritize investment in critical formula programs designed to level the playing field, including IDEA, Title I and Title IV. 
    • Urge your delegation to increase investment in the LHHS bills, and direct a larger share of the overall increase in non-defense discretionary funding to LHHS, to support education. 
    • Check out the latest update on Senate action.
     
  • Secure Rural Schools/Forest Counties
    • Wildfires are devastating California, Oregon, Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho and states across the country. California fires are burning forest acreages the size of East Coast cities. As Forest Communities pay the personal and economic price, Congress must act on long term forest management, fire prevention, and Secure Rural Schools.       
    • OVERVIEW: Congress has funded the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program for the short term in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 1625). The Consolidated Appropriations Act completed final FY 2018 funding extending SRS with funding for FY 2017 and FY 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. 
    • The Secure Rural Schools safety net program for forest communities is based on historic precedent and agreements begun in 1908 removing federal lands from local tax bases limiting local community management, economic activity and development.  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. 
    • NEXT STEPS:  National forests are burning.  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.  The Administration and Congress must act this year on viable forest management and economic development programs and continue the historic SRS commitment to rural counties, communities, schools, students and citizens.
    • Talking Points:
      • Congress must act on forest management, fire control and long term SRS funding as forest communities and schools fight for economic survival. 
      • SRS is critical to support essential safety, fire, police, road and bridge, and education services. 
      • Thank Members for the critical short term SRS 2017, 2018 funding.
      • Tell your Members what SRS funds mean for students, roads and essential public safety services in his/her communities.  
      • Give examples of what the loss of SRS means to education, roads, bridges, police, fire, and safety programs. 
       
     
  • Higher Education Act
    • Oppose the PROSPER Act! It will harm the district’s ability to hire quality new teachers and will leave teachers with higher debt and fewer incentives to remain in the classroom.
    • Talk about teacher shortage issues in your district, if applicable, to illustrate the reality of the issue in the Representative’s district and provide them with cover for opposing.
    • For Democrats, thank them for their commitment to supporting future teachers, as they are all committed to opposing the PROSPER Act.
     
  • Perkins Career and Technical Education Act
    • Reauthorization of the Perkins program was signed into law earlier this month, bringing an end to what had been a very purposeful, and bipartisan effort on the House side and a rushed, politically pressured process on the Senate side. Sasha created a great overview of what's in the new law.
    • Moving forward, we are concerned with the continued paperwork requirements in the new law. Perkins and ESSA Title IV are funded at the same level—approximately $1.2 billion—though Perkins has significantly more paperwork requirements. We urge Congress to align the paperwork requirements of Perkins to those of ESSA. Under ESSA Title IV, if a district does not receive more than $30,000 they are exempt from completing the comprehensive needs assessment every 3 years detailing how they were spending their funding and describing how they will spend the funding with any partners (if applicable), how they will support the goals of the Title, what they hope to accomplish with their spending and how they will evaluate their effectiveness in achieving these goals. The Perkins program, with a similar authorization and funding level, should mirror these requirements.  
     
  • Other Topics (topics listed below, content in the talking points document)
    • Anti-Integration rider (in the approps bill)
    • WiFi on buses
    • Vouchers
    • Nutrition
    • STOP School Violence Act
    • Medicaid
    • Immigration/DACA
    • Infrastructure
     
 
 

June 6, 2018

(WELL-BEING, ADVOCACY TOOLS, RESEARCH, PUBLICATIONS AND TOOLKITS, THE ADVOCATE) Permanent link

AASA Joins Five National Organizations in Joint Statement Before Federal School Safety Commission

AASA is pleased to be among the groups speaking before the Federal School Safety Commission in today's listening session, the first formal opportunity for school system leaders, professionals and stakeholders to engage in this process.

AASA submitted a statement with the Association of Educational Service Agencies, the Association of School Business Officials International, the Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators, the National Rural Education Association and the National Rural Education Advocacy Consortium.

This listening session was first noticed on Friday, June 1. In the passing five days, we were able to conduct a quick survey of our members asking them to rank-order their priorities among the Commission's stated areas of conversation and discussion. That information is included in our statement.

Read the full statement.

 

May 9, 2018

(SCHOOL CHOICE AND VOUCHERS, THE ADVOCATE) Permanent link

The Advocate, May 2018

By Sasha Pudelski, advocacy director, AASA

 

The VOUCHER Fight Of 2018: Are You Weighing In?

It’s no secret the Trump/DeVos Administration favors efforts to privatize federal education dollars. With the help of a Republican-controlled Congress, they have eked out a few wins this session that furthers the pro-voucher agenda. 

First, in the FY17 Omnibus last year, voucher proponents were successful in getting the only federally-funded voucher program—the DC voucher program—reauthorized for 5 years despite a widely publicized study conducted by the U.S. Dept. of Education that found D.C. students using vouchers to attend private schools were performing worse than their public school counterparts in math and reading.

Second, during the tax reform debate in Congress, voucher advocates received support for a change to 529 college savings accounts that permits taxpayers in some states to use these tax-free accounts to set aside $10,000 in K-12 private school expenses as well.

However, as soon as the ink dried on tax reform, AASA began fighting the most significant of battles that threaten public education dollars this Congress. Working closely with our friends at the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools (NAFIS) and many other education, civil rights, disability rights, religious and secular groups that belong to the National Coalition for Public Education (which AASA co-chairs), we honed in on a new voucher proposal that would allow active duty military families living on military bases to obtain a $2,500 (or in some exceptional cases a $4,500) voucher that they could use for private school, homeschool, virtual school, summer camp, tutoring and therapies, or college savings.

The scheme was flexible and straightforward: As long as an active-duty military family would not send their child to a public school full-time they could receive a small but very flexible voucher known as an “education savings account.” How would these vouchers be subsidized? Only through the oldest, most respected and most bipartisan funding stream at the federal level: Impact Aid.

Impact Aid was designed to direct federal dollars to districts who lack tax revenue due to the presence of federal land (forests, military bases/depots, Indian reservations, etc). It was never meant to be doled out on a per-pupil basis and it was never meant to be used solely to support military-connected kids. However, the Heritage Foundation, the most powerful conservative organization in the country along with their friends like ALEC, EdChoice, The American Federation of Children, The Club for Growth, and about 20 other heavy-hitting conservative pro-voucher organizations decided this was the education fight for 2018 and they proposed legislation called, “The Military Education Savings Account” (HR 5199/S.2517).

To up the ante to get the bill passed, Heritage took the unusual step of adding co-sponsorship of the bill to its political scorecard—which means a Republican hoping to be in Heritage’s good policy and funding graces during this election cycle would lose points even if they failed to co-sponsor (little less vote for) the bill. To date, there are more than 60 Republicans in the House who are signed on as co-sponsors. That’s 1 out of every 4 Republicans in the House.

The good news? We’ve already won round 1 in the fight. Despite having considerably fewer resources to go toe-to-toe with these well-funded political organizations, the education community (helped considerably by allies in the military community that we engaged) has succeeded in making Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee  uncomfortable enough with this specific proposal that the Committee vote planned for May 9th on the bill will not come up for a vote. While we may have won the first battle to protect Impact Aid funding from vouchers the war is far from over.

Because they were denied a vote in Committee, Heritage and its allies need to rally enough votes to pass this on the floor of the House. The week of May 21st is when the House will be considering this bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). NDAA is a must-pass bill to fund the Department of Defense every year. The Senate Armed Services Committee will also be considering this bill as part of their mark-up of NDAA.

If you haven’t weighed in yet with House or Senate representatives—please do! YOUR voice makes a difference in debate. After personally attending dozens of meetings with House staff over the past three months about the Impact Aid voucher bill, I was repeatedly heartened to hear that they had already heard from school leaders who expressed “strong concerns” with this proposal and that your voices were making a meaningful difference in how Congressional offices viewed the bill.

The takeaway for school leaders: It doesn’t matter the opponent—your voice matters.

You are a highly-respected constituent and all the money and political pressure from the other side doesn’t always equate to victory. Keep weighing in. We must stop this new federal education voucher scheme from coming to fruition.  

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

 

February 12, 2018(2)

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AASA Responds to President Trump's FY19 Budget Proposal

President Trump released his proposed budget for federal fiscal year 2019 (FY19). 

AASA Executive Director Daniel A. Domenech released the following statement in response to the proposed budget: “One year ago, in my response to the FY18 proposed budget, I reflected on my practice and belief as a school superintendent that our budget reflected our mission; that we funded what we supported and we supported what we funded. By that metric, President Trump’s proposed FY19 budget falls short of the simple willingness and ability to prioritize support for strengthening and supporting our nation’s public schools and the students they serve. With today’s FY19 budget proposal, as well as the infrastructure proposal details which lack an explicit role for public education, we continue to wonder not only if the administration supports our nation’s public schools, but also why their policy proposals remain so willing to make deep, damaging cuts and omissions. As we head to Nashville for AASA’s National Conference on Education, where we will highlight the continued great work and opportunity of our nation’s public schools, we will work with superintendents from across the county to explain why we #LovePublicEducation and to advocate for improved federal education policies that remain committed to equitable educational opportunity for all students.”

You can read AASA's full analysis and response here.

February 12, 2018(1)

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AASA and Rural School and Community Trust File Joint Response to USED Draft Report on Rural Education

Last December, USED released Section 5005 Report on Rural Education, its preliminary report on how the agency supports and serves rural education, as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act. As a draft report, it is open to public comment and feedback. AASA joined forces with the Rural School and Community Trust in our joint set of comments, which you can read here

In a nutshell, our groups are concerned that the report missed the mark and fails to address the questions and tasks outlined in statute, and managed this incomplete response more than 6 months behind schedule. As a point of reference, AASA is following three reports required by ESSA (rural, Title I formula, and homework gap), all of which were due June of 2017, and to date, only the rural report has been completed. The report details events that were hosted or facilitated but failed to report or demonstrate how rural and community feedback and experience is meaningfully and purposefully reflected in education policy.

When we consider that 70% of our nation's schools enroll less than 2,500 students, and a full 50% enroll less than 1,000, the role of rural education and its unique opportunities and obstacles should be a front-row driver of education policy. Our nation's rural schools enroll more students than the nation's 75 largest school systems combined, yet the rural voice and perspective is often and after thought in federal education policy discussions. 

The formal comments delve into deeper detail and response about what USED had reported and what it means for schools.

"It was our sincere hope, with an additional six months, the department would have been successful in releasing a draft report for public comment that is detailed, accountable, and outcomes-based, and outlined an action item framework that USED was tasked by Congress to propose, including a pathway for implementation.  The preliminary report, as drafted, falls short of this goal and remains an incomplete work.  We urge USED to review thoroughly all public comments, incorporate them the final report, and announce a date when the final report will be submitted to Congress."

January 8, 2018

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The Advocate, January 2018

By Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director, policy and advocacy, AASA

New Year, Not So New to Do List

2018 is just over a week old, and already Congress’ to-do list looks a LOT like that of 2017. And for good reason: much of the work at the top of their to-do list is a spillover of items they did not complete in 2017.

Front and center are the final negotiations around the FY2018 funding bills. Federal fiscal year 2018 (FY18) started October 1, 2017. While Congress failed to fund the government, they avoided a shutdown by using a short-term continuing resolution (CR), which keeps government running while buying Congress more time to complete its work. They passed a CR that went until Dec 8, then a CR that went to Dec 22, and then the CR we are under right now, one that runs through January 19.

2018 is the start of a mid-term election year, so we shouldn’t expect any major legislation, and we can expect that Congress will want to wrap up appropriations work as soon as possible so as to clear room for campaigning. It is not as simple as appropriations work alone, though: Congress has nearly two years’ worth of back-logged items they are trying to address in the first three weeks of 2018: FY18 appropriations, raising the caps, resolving the deferred action on childhood arrivals (DACA) program, Secure Rural Schools (Forest Counties) and Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP), among others.

Once Congress comes back from recess next week, there is not enough time for them to complete their work, so we can expect at least one more short-term CR, likely into February. Congress will continue its work to reconcile the differences between their proposed spending levels, which are significant when it comes to education: The House cuts U. S. Dept. of Education by $2.2 billion; the Senate provides a nominal $29 million increase. The funding conversations will hopefully include a resolution for the lack of funding currently available for CHIP and Secure Rural Schools.

An additional wrinkle related to the FY18 effort is the ongoing dialogue about raising the funding caps. Without explicit effort to raise the funding caps, Congress will be bound to the FY18 funding cap, which is BELOW FY17. Carrying over from previous years, the conversation about raising the caps raises debate about the size of the increase, how (or if) to pay for the increase, and whether or not to maintain parity between defense and non-defense discretionary funding (AASA supports parity).  Defense hawks want to provide a funding increase for defense, but not non-defense discretionary funding, which is where education dollars fall. Democrats are committed to parity. We have to see how this plays out.

While not related in terms of policy, the politics overlap: When President Trump announced the end of DACA protections for young people brought here as minors, he started a six-month clock for Congress to resolve this issue. That timeline expires in March, meaning Congress has less than two months to find common ground. Democrats are interested in a clean DACA deal, the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation that provides a path to citizenship. AASA supports the DREAM Act. Republicans are interested in expanding the conversation to include some of their broader immigration priorities, including money to build a portion of the wall, ending chain migration, and a few other things. A bipartisan group of Congress is expected to meet the week of January 8, and that should give a good indication of if a bi-partisan deal can move forward.

I am at the end of my word allocation and have managed to give a lay of the land without detailing a specific outcome. And that is largely because we cannot predict with certainty how any of these discussions will go. We will continue to monitor these conversations and let you know how they unfold. 

December 13, 2017

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The Advocate, December 2017

By Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director, policy and advocacy, AASA

As 2017 draws to a close, federal advocacy and its implications for education are far from boring. Between the need to avoid a federal shutdown—a tough task further complicated by considerations related to deferred action for childhood arrivals, an effort to raise the funding caps, a push to provide funding for the children’s health insurance program (CHIP), and more—and regular order, the fact that Congress is gunning to push through the GOP tax bill means the end of the year will be active, intense, and likely down to the last minute.

The House and the Senate have both passed their respective versions of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act. Both bills are highlight partisan, relying exclusively on Republican support, and the GOP is committed to seeing this proposal through to completion to notch a win in its belt before 2017 draws to a close. As the president and Congress move forward with their efforts to overhaul the federal tax code, it is important to have an understanding of how the proposed reforms will affect education. Tax reform and related changes may not affect education as directly as changes in annual federal funding (appropriations), but the potential consequences are significant. That is how AASA came to be engaged in the current effort to overhaul federal tax code. AASA efforts in monitoring the tax bill have been focused on specific policies that will impact public education. We provided a summary of these issues in a memo this summer, and issued various resources with detailed analysis on the blog

The bills will now go through the process of conference, where by the chambers will reconcile the differences that exist between the bills and emerge with one final bill that will then need to be adopted by both chambers and then signed into law by the president.  Congressional Research Service prepared a white paper on what the conference process involves, which you can access here.

Education Impact: AASA has centered our engagement in tax policy on four specific provisions (state and local tax deduction; expansion of 529 plans; changes to school construction finance bond options; and reliance on deficit financing to pay for the tax cuts). Details of our position can be found in our letters of opposition as sent to both the House and Senate. There are other policies that impact education, some of which are included in the analysis below.

  • State and Local Tax Deduction (SALT-D): Currently, tax payers can deduct the amount they pay in state and local taxes before calculating their federal income tax. Both the House and Senate bills make changes to how individuals can deduce SAL taxes, but not corporations. The bills allow for the deduction of property taxes (Capped at $10,000) and eliminate the deduction for income and personal property taxes).
  • 529 College Savings Plans: Currently, tax payers can put money away to pay costs associated with postsecondary education. The benefit associated with these accounts (the accrued/compounded interest) is not taxed when the dollars are drawn down for eligible college expanses, and annual withdrawals are capped at $2000. Under both the House and Senate bills, the plans would be expanded to allow withdrawals of up to $10,000 per year and expand the plans to allow the funds to be used for costs associated with costs associated with public/private elementary/secondary education. The Senate bill also expands the program allows the withdrawals to be used for home-schooling expenses.
  • Bonds: Currently, school districts have access to a variety of bonds and financing options when it comes to paying for/affording capital and infrastructure projects. These programs include Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZABs), advanced refunding, and private activity bonds. (You can read a good explainer on the blog.) The House bill eliminates QZABs, QCEBs, advanced refunding and private activity bonds. The Senate bill does not address tax credit bonds or private activity bonds, but does end advanced refunding effective December 31, 2017. If the changes go through, it would increase the costs incurred by school district association with financing school construction and renovation.
  • Lack of Pay Fors: The tax cuts in the bill need to be paid for, and neither the House nor the Senate bill completely offset the costs associated with their plan. Instead, they have authorized themselves to raise the nation’s deficit over ten years to pay for the portion they aren’t paying for now (and (estimated to be $1.5 trillion). AASA is concerned that should a tax plan that is deficit-financed move forward, Congress will feel pressure to make cuts elsewhere, and that those cuts will fall to education and non-defense discretionary spending. Congress already struggles to avoid deep cuts to important education programs as they work to comply with existing federal funding caps and constraints; a debt-financed tax reform would only exacerbate this tension and the depth of cuts to important education programs.
  • Teacher Expenses: Current law allows eligible educators (including teachers) to exclude an amount not to exceed $250 from income when those dollars were spent on books, supplies, professional development and other classroom expense. The House bill eliminates this exclusion; the Senate bill would double the maximum (to $500).
  • College Affordability: Current law provides a variety of supports and tax incentives that help make higher education affordable. The House bill consolidates the current higher education tax credits, repeals the deduction for interest paid on student loans, repeals the deduction for tuition and related expenses, repeals the exclusion of interest from savings bonds used to pay education expenses, repeals the exclusion of tuition reductions, and repeals the exclusion of employer-provided education assistance. The Senate bill makes none of these changes.
  • Child Care Tax Credit: Current law allows an individual to claim a $1,000 tax credit for a qualifying child under the age of 17. The House bill raises the credit to $1,600 and phases out at $230,00 income level (married). The Senate bill raises the credit to $2,000 and phases out at $500,000 income level (married).

AASA remains opposed to the bill. We will urge Congress to oppose the bill in its current form, to rewrite provisions to better support and strengthen public education, to get serious about ensuring benefits—and not just fiscal burden—fall to the middle class, and to identify pay-fors to offset the tax cuts built into the bill. Candidly, many of these asks individually make the bill way harder to pass. When you factor in that we need multiple significant improvements, and the partisan political pressure to see this bill over the line, it is a Sisyphean feat that lies ahead. We stand ready for the work, and will make the information you need available. Let us know if you need anything further, and we’ll continue to carry the good message of public education and to relay the importance of Congress making sure that tax policy supports education policy. 

You can read AASA’s analysis/side-by-side comparison of the House and Senate bills on the blog and in this memo

November 13, 2017

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The Advocate, November 2017

By Leslie Finnan, senior legislative analyst, AASA

Early Learning Opportunities in Federal Legislation

While AASA has not historically worked much on early learning issues, we are hearing more superintendents discuss their programs or their desire for more quality early learning opportunities. We are tracking and commenting on several pieces of legislation that could impact early learning throughout the country. Many states have early learning provisions at the state level, but the conversation has also expanded further to the federal level. The Democrats in both the House and the Senate have released a bill, The Child Care for Working Families Act. This bill is intended to be a conversation-starter, since it does not have a chance of moving legislatively given the make-up of the Congress. The bill provides incentives and funding for states to create high-quality early learning programs, increases workforce training and compensation for early learning providers, and increases help for Head Start programs.

On the other side of the aisle, Republicans have approached early learning through increasing the Child Tax Credit. It would increase the annual credit for families with children by up to $600. They say that through this tax credit, families will have money available to spend on early learning and child care. However, the tax credit is only available to families earning enough money to pay enough in taxes to benefit from such a tax credit.

One last way that early learning is being addressed is actually through expanded requirements under ESSA. ESSA allows but does not require Title I funding to be used for early childhood education. Districts that receive Title I funding are required to increase coordination with early childhood programs, regardless of whether they use Title I resources for early childhood programming. States are also required to address early childhood education in their state plans; they must describe how they will assist LEAs and elementary schools that use Title I funds to support early childhood programs. The accountability system must also address the number and percentage of students enrolled in preschool programs.

ESSA establishes the Preschool Development Grants program, which authorizes competitive grant funding for states to improve coordination, quality, and access to early childhood education for low and moderate-income students up to age five. These grants are intended to support statewide needs assessments of availability and quality of existing programs and the numbers of students served and to develop strategic plans to ensure collaboration and coordination to improve quality and access in early education programs.

Under the Literacy Education for All program, states may provide targeted sub grants to early childhood education programs and LEAs to implement evidence-based literacy programs.

Under the Expanding Opportunity through Charter Schools Program, ESSA includes early education as an allowable use. These funds may be used to support charter schools that serve early childhood students.

We are partnering with the National Head Start Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and other education associations to develop and promote a toolkit for state and district leaders to understand the new early learning components of ESSA. The toolkit will be made available by the end of November, so be sure to watch for it. 

October 10, 2017

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The Advocate, October 2017

By Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director, policy & advocacy, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

Federal Policy Triple Threat: CHIP, E-Rate and SALT

Children’s Health Insurance Program: The CHIP Program expired on September 30. If Congress does not act quickly to extend funding for CHIP then school districts will lose funding for the critical health services provided to low-income children that ensure they are healthy enough to learn. AASA supports five -year extension of the program.  CHIP provides essential funding to support states to cover uninsured children. Any delay or a failure to immediately extend funding for CHIP will jeopardize coverage for children who are eligible for school-based health-related services leading to immediate and lasting harmful effects for America’s most vulnerable citizens. A school’s primary responsibility is to provide students with a high-quality education. However, children cannot learn to their fullest potential with unmet health needs. The health services these children receive that ensure they are healthy enough to learn. School districts depend on CHIP to finance many of these services and have already committed to the staff and contractors they require to provide mandated services for this school year. The failure to continue funding CHIP would merely shift the financial burden of providing services to the schools and the state and local taxpayers who fund them. The full call to action is on the blog.

State and Local Tax Deduction: The president’s tax reform plan includes a proposal to eliminate the state and local tax deduction (SALT-D). AASA is opposed to the elimination of SALT-D, and it is our single biggest item of engagement in the overall tax reform package. We believe any comprehensive tax reform legislation must preserve this deduction. As one of the six original deductions allowed under the original tax code, SALT-D has a long history and is a critical support for investments in infrastructure, public safety, homeownership and, specific to our work, our nation’s public schools. SALT-D prevents double taxation for local residents and reduced the pressure tax payers feel/face when it comes to paying state and local taxes, which represent the lion’s share of public education funding. Elimination of this deduction would increase tax rates for certain tax payers, reduce disposable income, limit ability and support for local taxes, and damage local, state and national economies. The full call to action is on the blog.

E-Rate: The FCC is considering a policy change which would deeply cut--if not eliminate--it support for Category 2 (internal connections) within the E-Rate program. Adopted as part of the 2014 modernization, this is a premature policy consider that would undermine the intent of the 2014 vote and threaten the ability of schools and libraries to access and afford high speed connectivity in their classrooms. We need to create a groundswell of feedback from schools and libraries; please take the time to file comments. The full call to action—including a template response—is on the blog.

We’ve called 2017 the Year of Superintendent Advocacy and encouraged superintendents to commit to making contact with the members of their delegation once per month. For the month of October, we ask you to consider to take one advocacy step each week. One week, reach out to your delegation about CHIP. The next week, file comments on ERate and why it matters. To complete your hat-trick of October advocacy, let your delegation know you oppose any tax plan that changes/eliminates the SALT deduction.

As always, reach out to Sasha, Leslie or Noelle for additional information, including contact information for your hill staff.


 

August 3, 2017

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The Advocate: August 2017

The summer of 2017 has been one to remember. From shake-ups at the White House to intense health care debates, it’s never been more difficult to keep track of everything happening in Washington. While the health care votes during the week of July 25 were a sign that sometimes policy can trump politics, we are not out of the woods yet. There are still backroom deals purportedly underway to try and dismantle Medicaid.

Though  much of the attention appears to be on Obamacare and fixing the problems related to the coverage in the exchanges, we can’t  forget that a majority of House members and more than  40 Senators support the idea of block-granting Medicaid dollars to states. These high numbers mean that our work to educate Congress about school-based Medicaid is far from over.

We can and should relish in our highly-publicized and highly-regarded efforts to educate leaders on Capitol Hill, numerous state and national partners and millions of citizens across this country about school-based Medicaid. But, we need to keep educating and advocating.

Even if the House and Senate wash their hands of the Medicaid entitlement conversation for the rest of this Congressional session, there is a newfound appetite to “trim” Medicaid funding. Let’s be clear: any trim to the Medicaid program will hit schools, which are not front-line healthcare providers, first. We can never compete with hospitals, long-term care facilities, insurers, and other key health care players for limited Medicaid funding. That’s why these talking points on the importance of Medicaid in schools should be ones you remember for a long, long time.

In addition to fighting to preserve Medicaid, there is a smaller battle being waged to protect health care for kids who receive it through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Before the end of September, Congress must decide whether to extend funding for CHIP, which provides health insurance for 9 million children.

CHIP provides health care coverage for kids not quite poor enough to be eligible for Medicaid. In 15 states, kids eligible for CHIP look the same as kids eligible for Medicaid, and school reimbursement for services for CHIP kids as well as Medicaid kids is identical. In 29 states, a smaller portion of CHIP kids are treated as Medicaid beneficiaries and districts can also reimburse for the services they provide them.

The stakes are high if Congress fails to reauthorize—every  state will exhaust its  federal CHIP allotments at some point in fiscal year 2018 and a few states are expected to exhaust their federal CHIP allotments by December 2017. As a result,  millions of kids will lose health care. Consequently, your district may lose critical Medicaid dollars and be forced to provide basic health care services for even more kids to keep them healthy enough to learn. Outreach is underway  in both the House and Senate to urge them to support the extension of  funding for this program.

On the positive side, if Congress continues to treat Medicaid as an entitlement program for the near future there is a great opportunity for states and districts to pull down even more Medicaid funding, thanks to the reversal of the “free care” rule.

In December 2014, the “free care” rule prevented districts from being reimbursed by Medicaid for providing any service that is ordinarily provided for free to the community at large, even if Medicaid would cover these services for its beneficiaries in other contexts. For example,  if a school nurse examined  a Medicaid-eligible student as part of a universal screening, federal funds could not be used to cover that exam because all students would be able to access the service without being charged. The rescinding of this rule means that the child’s examination would be covered and reimbursed by Medicaid.

States are already in the process of seeking approval from CMS to start billing, so it’s worth connecting with other health and education advocates in your state to pursue whether your state is amending its plan to allow districts to start billing for these services as well. 

June 2, 2017

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The Advocate, June 2017

By Sasha Pudelski, assistant director, policy & advocacy, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

The Latest on Federal School Choice Policy

A lot of education policy discussions on and off Capitol Hill are focused on the ways in which the Trump Administration can advance funding for private schools and the privatization of our education system. Should they propose a tuition tax credit scheme like the ones that exist in 17 states to be included in tax reform? Should they try and promote privatization schemes targeted at specific groups of students (military-connected and Native American to name just two). Should they expand programs like the D.C. voucher program and urge the adoption of voucher programs across the country? The answer I’m betting on is that DeVos and her team throw all these options against the wall and sees what sticks. For AASA and our partners in the National Coalition for Public Education that means we will have a very busy summer.

The first item up per President Trump’s recently released FY18 budget is to try and convince Congress to spend money on new school choice programs that states will create and manage. States can opt to compete for new federal dollars to start a traditional voucher program (or other voucher scheme) or even build-off the current voucher programs they may have. The Department has indicated they would be willing to spend up to $250 million on this new Race-to-the-Top style competition although some money would be set-aside to study the voucher programs and their success in connecting students with new private school options. It’s not clear what the funding prospects are for this program. Democrats will never agree to it, but with so much at stake (Medicaid and CHIP funding, Planned Parenthood, SNAP) even they must appreciate this is going to be a harder-to-negotiate budget deal. And $250 million isn’t a ton of money.

As for a much bigger and bolder proposal, there has long been speculation that the Trump administration will push to include a “tuition tax credit” program (modeled after Florida’s program) into the proposed tax reform or tax cuts that Republicans are working diligently to advance later this year. In May, AASA and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy issued a scathing report looking at the federal legislative proposals introduced thus far as well as state tuition tax credit policies. We studied the current federal proposal introduced by school-choice proponents in the House and Senate which would provide a 100 percent tax credit (up to $4,500 per year for individuals or $100,000 for corporations) for donations to voucher nonprofits. We also looked at the state landscape where we uncovered that the seventeen states with tax credit voucher schemes divert more than $1 billion per year toward private schools via school voucher credits. For taxpayers in nine states with current dollar-for-dollar credits, the addition of a new federal tax credit would allow them to make $2 for every $1 contributed to a voucher program. Whether the Administration’s efforts are stymied by fears by conservative leaders that a federal tax credit scheme runs counter to principles of federalism remains to be seen. A federal tuition tax credit would clearly create new opportunities for corporations and successful investors to earn huge profits by transferring public funding to private schools.

Finally, there are threats of a micro-targeted voucher programs that would be attached to larger bills (like the National Defense Authorization Act) or that would seek to prey on a population of students that are not as well-supported by Congress and public education allies. The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, is also pushing to eliminate the Impact Aid program and instead give children of active-duty military an education savings account, so they can attend private school. We are also awaiting legislation to be introduced that would create a federally funded Education Savings Account program for students who attend schools managed by the Bureau of Indian Education. To say the BIE is struggling would be an understatement. Many analysts are unclear of how to keep the Bureau afloat amidst horrific underfunding and understaffing that has led to widespread mismanagement. However, public school advocates will need to stand ready to defend the autonomy of the BIE program, Impact Aid and other attempts to privatize substantial federal education funding streams. And if we’ve learned anything from state policy trends it is that voucher proponents initial attempt to introduce a small voucher program focused on one narrow population of students can quickly lead to vouchers for every student.

As leaders of public school systems, we must defend against these attacks to privatize K-12 education. We hope you’re following our advocacy team on twitter and reading our blog so you can stay up-to-date on this looming Congressional fight for public schools and the students we serve. 

May 12, 2017

(ESEA, IDEA, RURAL EDUCATION, WELL-BEING, SCHOOL CHOICE AND VOUCHERS, ED FUNDING, THE ADVOCATE) Permanent link

The Advocate, May 2017

By Noelle Ellerson, associate executive director, Policy and Advocacy, AASA

As April came to an end, we weren’t sure whether to breathe a sigh of relief or to buckle down for another exciting month of activity on Capitol Hill. If the first week of the month is any indication, the latter is our better option.

In a span of 48 hours, Congress passed the final FY17 funding bill and the House voted to advance the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which will now move to the Senate. Let’s unpack that and examine what that means for school superintendents and our federal advocacy.

In adopting the final federal fiscal year 2017 (FY17) budget, Congress avoided a federal shutdown and completed the FY17 fiscal process, 7 months into (more than half way through!) the very year they were funding. As a reminder, FY17 dollars will be in your schools for the 2017-18 school year and will support the first year of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) implementation. You can read AASA’s letter in response to the package outlining our concerns and the areas we support. Here’s a quick run-down of what the final FY17 package means for education:

  • 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

Less than 48 hours later, the House voted to adopt the American Health Care Act (ACHA) to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). AASA opposed the bill, given its draconian cuts to Medicaid and negative impact on students. Our letter of opposition—penned in coordination with the Save Medicaid in Schools Coalition, which AASA co-chairs, is available here. (The coalition also issued a statement after the bill was passed.)

Rather than close the gap and eliminate the rate of uninsured children in America, the current proposal will ration the health care America’s most vulnerable children receive and undermine the ability of districts to meet the educational needs of students with disabilities and students in poverty. Children represent 46% of all Medicaid beneficiaries yet represent only 19% of the costs. Currently, 4-5 billion dollars flow to school districts every year, so they can make sure students with disabilities who need the help of therapists can learn and that students who can’t get to a doctor regularly can receive the basic medical care they need to learn and thrive. ACHA will jeopardize students’ ability to receive comprehensive care at schools and create barriers to access.

ACHA will undermine critical healthcare services my district provides to children. It would also lead to layoffs of school personnel, the potential for new taxes to compensate for the Medicaid shortfall, and shifting general education dollars to special education programs to compensate for these cuts.

We now pivot our efforts to the Senate. While the upper chamber will NOT be considering the House bill as passed, they will craft their own proposal, and we anticipate it will have strong similarities to the House bill. 

The rest of May will include the full details on President Trump’s FY18 budget proposal, anticipated release of his tax reform, further consideration of the House proposal to reauthorize the Perkins Career and Technical Education Program, and more.

As always, please feel free to reach out to the advocacy team with any questions. We will have two separate monthly advocacy challenges in May—one on rural and one on the FY18 budget proposal. We remain very appreciative of everything you can do to support this challenge and commit to contacting your members of Congress once per month. 

 

 

April 10, 2017

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The Advocate, April 2017

By Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director, policy and advocacy, AASA

As we move into April, just four months into the New Year, it is critical that we address a few things about advocacy and the role of the superintendent in advocacy. In short, what you do matters. Keep it up. And let us know how we (Sasha, Leslie and I) can help you.

When we were talking about the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, which eventually became the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), we talked about the pendulum of federal involvement in education. Under NCLB, the pendulum was positioned firmly over dictating and prescribing to state and local education leaders. One of the biggest accomplishments—and framing perspectives—of ESSA was to return that pendulum back toward a role for the federal government focused on supporting and strengthening public schools by empowering state and local education leaders.

Let’s keep the pendulum metaphor and apply it to advocacy more generally. With this New Year, new Congress and new administration, we can safely (and unfortunately) see that the pendulum of support/priority for public education has swung toward prioritizing privatization. It is a less-than-heartening reality and remains at the core of what we are focused on at AASA—ensuring that a high-quality public school is a viable option for every parent and every community.

When you have an environment that is premised on privatization over support for public education, every policy seems like something we have to engage on. The current environment in Washington, D.C.—as it relates to federal education policy conversations—can at best be described as concerning, if not threatening. As such, when we provide updates to AASA members, we are ever cognizant of the fact that almost all policy areas include something that could be considered a threat, or not good news. With that in mind, and knowing that the effort to build out and support superintendent advocacy in 2017, we wanted to remind you of a few important points:

  • Advocacy is a marathon, not a sprint. Now, more than ever, this is important to keep in mind. It is very likely that the conversations we have with this Congress and this administration will be in defense of public education.
  • Congress will make these votes whether they hear from you or not. Let’s at least give them a shot of getting it right. To use another axiom I just picked up: They may not always do better, but our advocacy can ensure they know better.
  • You do not need to be a master in all aspects of federal policy. It is an explicit member benefit—of belonging to both AASA and your state affiliate—to have support in your advocacy efforts. Rely on your advocacy team to do the heavy lifting when it comes to reading, analyzing and communicating important information about legislation, regulation and policy.
  • Continuing on the idea of not needing to be a master of all aspects of federal policy, engage deeply on the one or two issues that are most important to you/your district, or that you find most interesting. From there, coordinate with other superintendents in your region/state to ensure that all of the topics are covered. If you focus on funding and education technology, perhaps your neighboring superintendent(s) can focus on nutrition, and another on ESSA, and another on IDEA, etc… Many hands make light work.
  • Keep your head up. The current education policy environment may seem overwhelming or depressing or a lost cause. Sincerely, though (and accounting for the inherent job bias we have toward public education and advocacy): Your voice matters. Your advocacy matters. If we don’t commit to advocating for public education now, who will? And when? To borrow from one of my favorite MLK quotes, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” We have to reiterate that the arc of education in this nation is long, and has long been the backbone of our nation, it’s civic education/engagement, and its success, and bends toward public education. This moment in time is a shift of the pendulum to the opposite end of the spectrum, and your commitment and advocacy is the best remedy we can think of for redirecting the narrative back toward a focus on supporting and strengthening our nation’s public schools.

This month’s Superintendent Advocacy Challenge (full details here) is all about appropriations. And given the amount of detail related to funding, the challenge is broken into two parts.

The first one is all about the broader framing concepts, including the need for continued investment in education and maintaining parity between defense and non-defense funding. The second part, coming mid-month, will be a great complement and will have program-specific details and talking points. AS always with the superintendent advocacy challenge, if you would prefer to focus on a priority other than the ones already featured, just let us know what you need.