Elementary and Secondary Education Act

Senate HELP Committee Hearing on ESEA Flexibility Waivers

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee kicked off its most recent attempt to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) by holding a hearing in February to examine the state flexibility waivers that are available under the current iteration of the law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Calling the ESEA waivers “Plan B,” US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan explained that the administration put forward a blueprint for ESEA reform in 2010 and only moved forward with the waivers after Congress was unable to reauthorize the law. He said that the guiding principle of ESEA flexibility is that it must first benefit students, and states must demonstrate a commitment and capacity to improve educational outcomes. Duncan also noted that the federal government does not serve as a national school board, but it does have a responsibility to set a high bar, especially for at-risk students. Duncan concluded by expressing a desire to partner with Congress to fix NCLB, which he called “fundamentally broken.”

The committee also heard from two chief state school officers whose states have received flexibility waivers: Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday and New York Commissioner of Education John King. They discussed how the waivers have allowed them to enhance reforms already underway in their states, including a focus on student proficiency and achievement gaps, strengthening the accountability system, and improving teacher and principal evaluation. Nonetheless, both chiefs expressed their desire that state reforms developed under the waivers inform ESEA reauthorization and urged Congress to move forward. “Only reauthorization gives us long-term expectations for accountability and long-term capacity for implementation,” said Holliday.

Kati Haycock, President of The Education Trust, discussed the report her organization released the same day as the hearing, A Step Forward or a Step Back? State Accountability in the Waiver Era. She outlined four areas of concern in the waivers: 1) Although states were required to set ambitious goals for raising student performance and closing achievement gaps, these goals were not included in the school rating systems developed by many states; 2) Super subgroups that combine small subgroups of student populations are problematic in many states because they mask the true performance of some disadvantaged students; 3) Many states did not include multiple measures of student performance in their accountability systems, but instead chose to continue using only state assessments in math and English language arts; 4) Many states did not specify what districts need to do to turn around the lowest-performing schools.

Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) closed the hearing with a reminder that the “federal role is to ensure that our nation’s most vulnerable children are not forgotten.” He also reaffirmed his commitment to work towards a comprehensive, bipartisan ESEA reauthorization in the next year.

Update from CQ Roll Call (3/19/13)

Despite the widespread belief that Congress has zero appetite for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act this year, leaders of the Senate education committee are testing the waters.

Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman and ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, met last week with Education Secretary Arne Duncan to discuss the prospects of crafting a bipartisan overhaul of the ESEA (PL 107-110), widely known as No Child Left Behind.

Education Department staffers are meeting with both Democratic and Republican education policy staffers on the committee to work out a potential foundation for a bill.

“Our staffs are going to be working very, very hard the next couple of weeks to see where and if there is common ground,” Duncan said Tuesday at the annual legislative conference for the Council of Chief State School Officers. “The real question is does Congress have the bandwidth, the capacity and the willingness to work in a bipartisan way? And if they do, we stand ready and able to help out any way we can. If they’re not, we’ll come back when they are ready.”

Harkin said Tuesday the three will meet again after the upcoming congressional recess to assess any paths forward.

“Our staffs are doing some work together now,” Harkin said. “We’ll just see what areas we need to work on a little bit more. It’s just trying to find a way of moving forward.”

Though moving forward could mean having to push a partisan bill through committee, Harkin said that is something he is not opposed to doing.

“I am reporting an ESEA bill out of my committee before summer,” Harkin said. “One way or the other, it’s coming out.”

Harkin and Alexander won’t be starting from scratch. They ushered a bipartisan rewrite of the law through committee last year, along with then-ranking member Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo. But neither side was enamored enough with the bill to press Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to bring it to the floor, and so the effort expired along with the last Congress.

“In the Senate last time we started out with a lean bill and ended up with a really long bill and lots of senators had their ideas in it,” Alexander said. “I voted to get it out of committee, but I didn’t like it very much because it got too intrusive.”

The bill was sprinkled with sweeteners for both sides. For Democrats, it wrote into law the administration’s signature competitive grants, such as the Race to the Top program. It also expanded charter schools, a Republican priority.

But significant policy gaps existed: Democrats thought it lacked robust accountability standards, Republicans wanted to include language to limit federal authority over education policy, and a coalition of members from both parties wanted to include teacher evaluation requirements.

“Obviously, the current dysfunction in Washington makes me less optimistic that this can get done,” Duncan said. “But we’re going to provide whatever leadership we can do to help facilitate it.”

ESEA Waivers

Currently, thirty four states plus D.C. have been approved for waivers, and twelve states’ requests are still outstanding: Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming. And while California was denied its request for a waiver, 10 California school districts have applied for a customized waiver. Three states have yet to apply: Montana, Nebraska, and Vermont.

 

FY 2013 Appropriations/FY 2014 Budget

Sequestration

After months of anticipation and constant assurances that it would never happen, the sequester that triggers $85 billion in automatic spending cuts took effect on March 1st. Congress and the White House, in spite of reassuring the public for months that it was just too awful and they would never let it happen, failed to come up with an alternative.  Because of a policy known as forward funding, most education programs will not feel the impact of the sequester until the fall.  But not all programs.  Headstart and Impact Aid will feel the cuts in the remaining months of this fiscal year.

For the Department of Education, the impact will be slow in coming on the one hand but fairly immediate given the constraints of teacher contracts.  In total, the sequester will force cuts totaling $3 billion from education programs.  That means 5.1% for every program and every activity.  Because the year is truncated that 5.1% translates to something closer to a 9% decrease.  Agency heads like Secretary Duncan have some limited flexibility in how the sequester is applied.  If the Department were to enact furloughs they could only apply to career employees.  If the Department were to prohibit all travel or cancel conferences that could reduce the overall percentage but the cuts would still have to be applied across the board.

The formula grants that include the majority of education funding that reaches states will be hard hit.  Title I and IDEA grants will be reduced by $735 million and $600 million respectively.  The Pell Grant program—the largest single expenditure at the Department– is exempt from the sequester this first year.  Beyond specific cuts, if there are furloughs of career employees, grant reviews, release of RFPs and other services delivered by the Department are sure to be impacted.

Slowly but surely individual federal agencies are alerting their staff and grantees and the public about their sequester plans.  These plans must be sent to the Congress by May 1st.  Given that federal workers are in many instances unionized, negotiations between management and union leaders will also slow down the works and impact the way cuts are applied.

While it is too late for the President to negotiate changes for FY 2013, the $85 billion in sequester cuts are scheduled to occur every year over the next 9 years and total over a trillion in reduced federal spending.  It is those out year cuts that he and others in Congress hope to address with a so-called grand bargain, which will only possible if Democrats agree to entitlement reforms and Republicans agree to revisit the tax code.

FY 2013 Appropriations

The FY 2013 continuing resolution (CR) for FY 2013 (HR 933) was signed into law on March 26th.  The CR extends funding for education programs and other parts of the federal budget at Fiscal Year 2012 levels—minus $85 billion in automatic, across-the-board budget cuts, also known as the sequester—through September 30, 2013. The Department of Education’s share of the sequester is $2.5 billion. The CR also included an additional across-the-board budget cut of 0.2%, which works out to about $136 million of the agency’s $68 billion in discretionary funding. The CR requires all agencies to submit an operating plan to Congress showing the amounts for programs, projects, and activities by April 25.

FY 2014 Budget

Although the Executive Branch typically releases its budget proposal for the next fiscal year on the first Tuesday of February, this year’s budget was delayed while Congress finalized spending for FY 2013. President Obama recently announced that he will release the FY 2014 budget on April 10.

 

School Safety

In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, NASSP has been actively meeting with White House officials and members of Congress to share our recommendations on gun violence prevention and other school safety issues.

After Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA) read the press statement issued by NASSP and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) opposing proposals to arm school officials, our executive directors and the leaders of the National Education Association and the National PTA met with him in January to discuss action items for the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. While the conversation focused on gun control proposals and other school safety issues, we were also able to offer recommendations on the vital need for mental health services in schools. Our organizations submitted joint recommendations to the Congressman that called for reinstating the assault weapons ban and strengthening background checks for all gun purchases; promoting access to mental health services; coordinating federal mental health, education, and justice programs; and providing school officials with the necessary skills and authority to strengthen partnerships with local social and health service providers. Click here to read the full letter.

NASSP and NAESP also submitted joint recommendations to Vice President Biden on how to prevent gun violence in schools and were asked to participate in a meeting today with senior officials from the White House, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Education. Because the principal’s responsibility is to foster a safe, orderly, warm, and inviting environment where students come to school ready and eager to learn, we urged policymakers to take preemptive measures to strengthen the ability of schools to provide coordinated services in mental health and school safety at all levels of government. We also encouraged coordination between education and health services agencies so that local communities could focus on schools as the “hub” for delivery of these services. Finally, we requested additional support for federal programs to prevent bullying and harassment in our nation’s schools, which we feel will have a dramatic impact in improving school safety and, correspondingly, student achievement for all students. Click here to read the full letter.

Legislation

Many of our recommendations on bullying prevention and mental health services in schools were reflected in legislation introduced during the 112th Congress: the Safe Schools Improvement Act, the Mental Health in Schools Act, and the Increased Student Achievement through Increased Student Support Act. NASSP has long supported these bills and expects them to be reintroduced later this year. NASSP was also pleased that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced legislation in December to strengthen and expand the COPS Secure Our Schools program, which provides schools resources to install tip lines, surveillance equipment, secured entrances, and other safety measures. She also introduced a bill that would allow Governors to use their states’ National Guard troops to support local law enforcement in efforts related to school safety. NASSP feels that only appropriately trained law enforcement personnel should serve as school resource officers, so we would encourage states to use this flexibility in a way that would allow more local police officers to receive this training and work in schools.

White House Recommendations

At an event surrounded by school children, victims of gun violence, local law enforcement officials, and education advocates on January 16, President Obama announced his plan to protect our children and our communities by reducing gun violence. Now is the Time offers proposals in four key areas: 1) closing background check loopholes to keep guns out of dangerous hands; 2) banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; 3) making schools safer; and 4) improving mental health services.

NASSP was pleased to see that the President took a comprehensive approach to school safety that focuses on security, bullying prevention, and mental health services. His proposal calls for $150 million for a new Comprehensive School Safety program, which will help school districts hire school resource officers, school psychologists, social workers, and counselors. Funding could also be used to purchase school-safety equipment, develop and update public safety plans, conduct threat assessments, and train “crisis intervention teams.” The Department of Justice will also develop a model for using school resource officers, including best practices on age-appropriate methods for working with students, which is strongly supported by NASSP.

By May 2013, the Departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security will release a model, high-quality emergency management plans for schools, houses of worship, and institutions of higher education, along with best practices for training school staff and students to follow them. President Obama has also called on Congress to provide $30 million in one-time grants to help school districts develop and implement emergency management plans. He also urged Congress to require that states and school districts receiving federal school safety funding to have comprehensive, up-to-date, emergency plans in all of their schools. The President also proposed a $50 million initiative to help 8,000 schools train their school leaders and other staff to implement evidence-based strategies to improve school climate and will require the Department of Education to collect and disseminate best practices on school discipline policies.

To address mental health issues, President Obama is calling for a new initiative Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), which will include $15 million to train school staff to detect and respond to mental illness in children. The initiative would also include $40 million to help school districts work with law enforcement, mental health agencies, and other local organizations to assure students with mental health issues receive the services they need. In addition, $25 million would be proposed for innovative state-based strategies to support young people ages 16 to 25 with mental health or substance abuse issues.

NASSP on Capitol Hill

In January and February, NASSP staff met with other members of the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force and staff for House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline to discuss our recommendations on school safety. Conference calls were also organized for Chairman Kline’s staff and Ranking Member George Miller’s staff to speak to NASSP Specialist for School Safety Bill Bond. NASSP staff also met with staff for Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) to discuss various proposals related to the school-to-prison pipeline. Based on the conversation, staff forwarded NASSP’s position statement on corporal punishment and our general school safety recommendations.

In February, Bill Bond was invited to appear before the committee at a hearing on school safety that was prompted by the tragedy in Newtown, CT. Other witnesses included a school counselor from California, the director of the office of safety and security for a suburban Virginia school district, a researcher, an employee from a private security firm, and the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers.

Bond spoke about the assistance he has provided to 12 other schools where students have died and how his role is to focus the principal on the decisions he or she will need to make to get the school back up and functioning. He also spoke more broadly about what a principal must do to prepare his or her school for a crisis, including meeting with local responders; defining people’s roles; examining how the traffic flows around the schools; and creating lockdown, evacuation, and reunification procedures.

One huge area where Bond feels that schools need to adjust their emergency plans is in the area of crisis communications. “Communicating with teachers, staff, and parents is the hardest part of a crisis, but it is extremely important and it’s the key to recovery,” he told committee members. He said that parents expect instant communication today, and if they are hearing nothing from the school they may fill the gap with information from news outlets, texts from their kids, the rumor mill, or social media. Bond said that parents only want to know two things: is my child OK? And when can I get him? “And the more parents can hear from the school that at least makes progress toward those answers, the more it relieves their emotions,” he stated.

Bond’s final point, and one that was shared with the other witnesses, is that school shootings can’t be prevented by more security alone. “Your best protection is a trusting relationship between adults and students that encourages kids to share responsibility for their safety and share information,” he said, explaining that kids very often know better than adults what’s going on in a school and what could cause a crisis.

While the hearing could have turned into a debate on gun violence, only one committee member asked whether teachers and school officials should be armed in schools. All witnesses voiced their opposition to such a proposal, and the conversation shifted to a discussion about the need for more school resource officers, counselors, psychologists, and social workers. Chairman John Kline (R-MN) was careful to not propose additional federal funding for schools to hire these professionals, but he did state that all educators could benefit from training on how to build trusting relationships with students.

Click here to view an archived webcast of the hearing.

 

School Principal Recruitment and Training Act

NASSP and NAESP have worked closely with staff for Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) to update and improve the School Principal Recruitment and Training Act. Although the bill was not reintroduced during the 112th Congress, we expect the legislation to be introduced in the coming weeks. The bill would authorize a grant program to recruit, select, train, and support aspiring or current principals with track records of transforming student learning and outcomes and prepare these principals to lead high-need schools. Selected aspiring principals would be provided with a pre-service residency that lasts for at least one year as well as ongoing support and professional development for at least two years after they commence work as school leaders. Grant funds would also be used to provide mentoring and professional development to strengthen current principals’ capacity in the areas of instruction, supervision, evaluation, and development of teachers and highly effective school organizations.

NASSP and NAESP have organized a sign-on letter for national and state organizations in support of the bill, and we expect the 80+ members of the Coalition for Teaching Quality to include the bill as one of their top legislative priorities this year.

 

LEARN Act

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) will soon be reintroducing the Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN) Act. The bill would authorize $2.35 billion for comprehensive state and local literacy initiatives, building on the best components of the federal Early Reading First, Reading First, and Striving Readers programs. Districts would support school-wide literacy initiatives that include professional development for principals and teachers to incorporate literacy across the curriculum and targeted interventions for struggling students. NASSP has been working with its coalition partner, Advocates for Literacy, to ensure the bill’s reintroduction in the 113th Congress.

NASSP staff and other members of Advocates for Literacy also held a meeting in January with Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education Deb Delisle to discuss the LEARN Act and implementation of the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program.

 

Transforming Education Through Technology Act

Since Congress eliminated funding for the federal Enhancing Education through Technology (EETT) program in FY 2011, schools have struggled to pay for new handheld devices, education software, and training for school leaders and teachers on how to use technology to personalize the learning environment for each student. As these skills become more important in our effort to graduate all students college and career ready, principals should be very pleased that House Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA) has introduced the Transforming Education through Technology Act (H.R. 521). This is brand new legislation that NASSP has added to its advocacy agenda during the 113th Congress.

The Transforming Education through Technology Act would authorize $500 million for State Grants for Technology Readiness and Access. States would be required to provide technical assistance to school districts to help them address their technology readiness needs, deliver computer-based and online assessments, support principals in evaluating teachers’ proficiency in implementing digital tools for teaching and learning, and build capacity for individual school and district leaders. States would also coordinate with teacher and school leader preparation programs to align digital learning teaching standards and provide professional development that is aligned to state student technology standards and activities promoting college and career readiness.

Under the bill, subgrants would be provided to school districts to carry out “digital age” professional development opportunities for all school staff. Specifically, school leaders would receive ongoing professional development to promote: 1) the use of educational technology to ensure a digital age learning environment; and 2) the use of data in order to increase student access to technology and engagement in learning. School districts could also use the funding to hire technology coaches to work directly with teachers on integrating technology into their instruction.

NASSP staff was invited to a meeting with staff for Rep. Miller in February to discuss the strategy for getting more cosponsors on the bill and finding a Senate champion to introduce a companion bill on the Senate side. Congressman Miller also visited Coronado Middle School in San Diego, CA, and met with the school’s principal, Jay Marquand, who is an NASSP member.

The Transforming Education Through Technology Act has 5 House cosponsors.

 

Success in the Middle Act

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) will soon be reintroducing the Success in the Middle Act. Under the bill, states are required to implement a middle school improvement plan that describes what students are required to know and do to successfully complete the middle grades and make the transition to succeed in an academically rigorous high school. School districts would receive grants to help them invest in proven intervention strategies, including professional development and coaching for school leaders, teachers, and other school personnel; and student supports such as personal academic plans, intensive reading and math interventions, and extended learning time.

NASSP is leading the Middle Grades Coalition, which held a meeting in January with staff for Rep. Grijalva to discuss the bill’s reintroduction. The coalition also offered a number of recommendations to update and revise the bill, which were submitted to congressional staff.

 

Graduation Promise Act

Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) will soon reintroduce the Graduation Promise Act. The bill would support the development of statewide systems of differentiated high school improvement that focuses research and evidence-based intervention on the lowest performing high schools, and improves the capacity of the high schools to decrease dropout rates and increase student achievement. The bill would also provide competitive grants to states to identify statewide obstacles hindering students from graduating, and provide incentives for states to increase graduation rates.

 

NASSP and the US Department of Education

Secretary Duncan Announces Principal Ambassador Program

On March 1, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took the stage at Ignite 2013 to a standing ovation by nearly 1,500 middle and high school principals. Duncan spoke about three priorities for the Obama administration during his second term – school safety and mental health, college and career readiness by transforming high schools, and principal preparation and professional development.

Duncan admitted that not enough has been done on principal preparation, evaluation and professional development and vowed to make it a priority in the department’s second term agenda. He announced his commitment to establishing a principal ambassadorship program similar to the one currently in place for teachers at the department to help shape policy. Such ambassadors would share their expertise with policymakers, offer insight into what is and isn’t working at the department, and help shape federal programs and policy.

Although the planning is still in its infancy, the department later announced that the program will roll out next fall. Some principals may be employed for a full year while others will consult from their schools on a part-time basis.

Meeting with Assistant Secretary Deb Delisle

NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti and NASSP government relations staff joined other association representatives from the Council of Chief State School Officers, the American Association of School Administrators, and the National Association of Elementary School Principals to meet with Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Deb Delisle in February as part of a series of regular bi-monthly meetings. The meeting focused on school safety and implementation of college and career-ready standards as required by the ESEA flexibility waivers.

 

NASSP Board Position Statements

At the February meeting, the NASSP Board of Directors stated its intent to adopt two new position statements. They are now open for public comment through April 12, 2013. Please submit your comments to Patty Kreutz at kreutzp@nassp.org.

Federal Funding for Formula and Competitive Grants

Parent Trigger Laws

The NASSP Board of Directors also approved revisions to the position statement on Safe Schools.

 

NASSP Federal Grassroots Network

As a reminder, Federal Grassroots Network members no longer participate in quarterly calls (they are now reserved only for the State Coordinators), but they continue to receive the weekly update summarizing the latest news and events in federal policy and funding. If you or your colleagues are not yet members of the Federal Grassroots Network and would like to join please email Jacki Ball at ballj@nassp.org. For an overview of what membership in the Network involves, please go here.

 

NASSP State Coordinators

NASSP welcomes several new coordinators to their roles: Tracey Lamb (KY), John Rogers (WV), Dave Powers (MI), and Dennis Barger (AZ).

The NASSP State Coordinators held their quarterly conference calls on February 13. The top issues were ranked in this order: state education funding, teacher evaluation (tied for #2), Common Core State Standards (tied for #2), school safety, federal education funding/sequestration, principal evaluation, and ESEA flexibility waivers.

The next quarterly conference calls will take place on (5/14) at 10 AM ET and (5/15) at 3:30 PM ET.

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