Friday, September 13, 2013

Students and Congress Are Back From Their Summer Breaks-Now What?

By Mary Kingston, Public Policy Manager, Coalition for Community Schools

Students across the country have returned to school, decked out in new outfits, backpacks and eager smiles, while Congress reconvenes on Capitol Hill this week after their August recess. Many of us who care about our nation’s students and are dissatisfied with our current federal education law, No Child Left Behind, are wondering whether Congress will get back to work on education to overhaul the law and improve learning conditions and opportunities for our students. Here is a quick rundown of what you need to know about federal education policy and funding for the coming months that will affect our nation’s 50 million students.

Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind): Prospects do not look good for a reauthorization this Congress, despite movement on bills in the House and Senate. This summer, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved a bill and then the full House approved it. The vote was completely partisan however, with all Democrats voting against it. The Coalition has many concerns about the bill, including its blatant lack of assurances for comprehensive supports for students and adequate accountability for schools, districts and states to ensure an equitable education for all students. Specifically, we are troubled by the absence of language addressing school climate and students’ social, emotional and physical health; the allowance for federal funds currently allocated for vulnerable student populations such as ELLs and Native American students, to be reallocated for other means; and the absence of any accountability for states to address achievement gaps among subgroups of students. Read more about Chairman Kline’s (R-MN) bill here.

Meanwhile, the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed its own partisan bill. The Coalition strongly supports much of the language in this bill, particularly since many of the Coalition’s recommendations were adopted into the language (read a summary of the bill’s alignment with the Coalition’s principles here). Chairman Harkin (D-IA) is pushing to get this bill on the Senate floor this fall for a vote, but the chances look increasingly unlikely due to a lack of urgency from the Administration and Congressional leadership, and competing priorities including the conflict in Syria and the countdown to October 1 when Congress must reach a deal on the federal budget.

The Coalition is still actively meeting with key Congressional offices to ensure continued support of our core bills. This month we are bringing several of our national partners with us to meet with staff of Senators Reid (D-NV), Rubio (R-FL), Franken (D-MN), Alexander (R-TN), Whitehouse (D-RI), Enzi (R-WY), Bennet (D-CO), Hagan (D-NC) and Casey (D-PA) to promote the DIPLOMA Act specifically, which will be introduced shortly by Sen. Sanders (I-VT). Read more about the DIPLOMA Act and our other key bills here.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Waivers: In the absence of Congressional action to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, President Obama in September 2011 declared that the Department of Education would issue states temporary waivers from certain provisions of NCLB in return for new responsibilities including revised teacher and principal evaluation systems and a differentiated accountability system for schools.

The main relief schools would get is from the expectation that all students would be proficient by 2014. Since President Obama made this announcement, the Department of Education has issued waivers to 41 states, the District of Columbia, and eight districts in California. Thirty-five of those waivers were approved in the first two rounds, and their flexibility will expire at the end of the 2013-14 school year. Those states will be the first to apply for renewal of their waivers, for which the Department has just released guidance (see the summary of the guidance and initial reactions here).

Though these waivers release states from the impractical goal of 100% student proficiency and frees up the 20% set-aside formerly required for supplemental education services, they also prove a disincentive for urgent reauthorization of a broken law, and create instability and confusion for educators looking for a permanent solution. For these reasons, the Coalition urges Congress and the Administration to push for a reauthorization as soon as possible.

Federal Education Funding: Fiscal Year 2014 begins on October 1, the deadline for when Congress needs to agree on a budget. They will likely continue their recent pattern which is to enact a continuing resolution, or a temporary budget that simply maintains the same funding from the previous fiscal year until they can agree on a new budget. As of now, the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved its spending for education earlier this year, which included a huge proposed increase for early childhood spending with an approval of a $1.6 billion increase for Head Start plus $750 million in new dollars to assist states in improving the quality of their pre-kindergarten programs.

The panel also approved increases in other areas that community school advocates should be pleased about, including: $125 million more each for Title I and IDEA state grants, an increase to after-school programs for an allocation of $1.2 billion, and $100 million for Promise Neighborhood grants, which exceeds the amount of $60 million the program received in Fiscal Year 2013.

Meanwhile, the House appropriations panel indefinitely postponed consideration of FY 2014 education spending, most likely because the House appears likely to propose huge budget cuts that many would oppose. Congress must also agree on whether sequestration (automatic spending cuts to several federal programs, including education) will stay in place or if they can agree to replace it with a more thoughtful, measured approach to reduce the federal deficit. (Currently, federal education spending has been cut 5% in Fiscal Year 2013 due to sequestration). Here’s a sampling from the Committee for Education Funding of how certain programs and their recipients have been affected under sequestration:

· Head Start was cut by $401 million which is currently cutting services to 70,000 low-income children
· Title I was cut $727 million, affecting almost 1.2 million educationally disadvantaged children
· IDEA K-12 funding for special education was cut by $580 million, affecting over 350,000 students with disabilities

It is no doubt a turbulent and uncertain time in Congress, and it is difficult to know when and how reauthorization of ESEA will occur. The Coalition will continue to keep you informed so that you can advocate for policies supportive of community schools and help us make the case at the federal level.

1 comment:

  1. Does anyone know of any community schools in Fort Myers, FL? I might move there for work, but I want to make sure my kids will be taken care of with their education.