Education Secretary Duncan Testifies About Education Budget
Last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan testified in front of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education about the proposed federal education budget. In the wake of the heated debate related to spending cuts, Secretary Duncan made his case for President Obama's 2012 budget specific to the Department's future goals.
"You can't sacrifice the future to pay for the present, and nothing is more important to a family's future-and our future as a nation-than education," Secretary Duncan said during his opening statement. Duncan noted that the President's budget includes efficiencies, consolidations and cuts in education programs that are not as effective as they should be. "We understand that, just as every family is doing more with less, so should we," Duncan said in response to the fiscal climate in Washington.
Secretary Duncan explained that the budget proposal seeks to make key educational investment, including:
- Closing the Pell shortfall both through efficiencies and more resources;
- Protecting Title I and IDEA formula funds for students most at risk; and,
- Expanding reform programs that support state and local policies, including Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, and ED's learning and college completion programs.
Click here to read Secretary Duncan's entire testimony, and for or more information on the President's FY 2012 Budget Request for the U.S. Department of Education, visit the department's FY 2012 budget page.
House Committee Reviews State and Local Efforts to Improve Teacher Effectiveness
Last week, the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing to examine state and local initiatives to improve teacher effectiveness. During the hearing, entitled "Education Reforms: Exploring Teacher Quality Initiatives," education leaders from Colorado, Tennessee, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C. discussed the importance of attracting and maintaining quality teachers in classrooms across the country.
Chairman John Kline (R-MN) expressed concerns about teacher quality policies under current law. He stated , "Valuing credentials and tenure over student outcomes is completely unacceptable...the committee will support state and local efforts to recruit and maintain more effective teachers in the nation's classrooms."
In a statement National Council on Teacher Quality President Kate Walsh said , "No education improvement strategy states and districts take on - and it is at the state and district level where nearly all teacher policy plays out - is likely to have a greater impact than one which seeks to maximize teacher performance. Improving teacher quality must be the centerpiece of any serious school reform effort."
Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman discussed a new statewide teacher evaluation system scheduled to go into effect in the upcoming school year. Mr. Huffman hopes the system will provide constructive feedback for teachers, while also offering an outlet to identify and share effective teaching methods.
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Boasberg offered committee members an overview of Denver's innovative Leading Effective Academic Practice (LEAP) system, which is designed to evaluate and reward the best teachers. Mr. Boasberg said , "LEAP is the number one priority of the district because having a great teacher in every classroom is the most important thing driving student achievement and helping close the achievement gap." Encouraging great teachers and engaged students, Mr. Boasberg concluded, will "create a much stronger economic and civic future."
Chairman Kline said in his closing remarks that he was encouraged by the programs highlighted in the hearing. "We are going to continue to grapple with our role, with Washington's role in what you're doing. I can tell you that as a very minimum, we want you to be able to continue with what you're doing, with the successes that we've seen."
Click here to watch the entire hearing.
NCLB Reauthorization Not On Schedule
In the midst of the debt ceiling crisis, the prospect of meaningful action on education seems laughable on Capitol Hill this summer. The 9-year-old law has seen its share of debate since the Department of Education introduced their blueprint for change last spring, a document issued to create a framework for federal reforms. The original target date for an NCLB overhaul was Easter. Then it was late spring. Now it's sometime this year- if ever.
While the House has begun the process with a 5-part series of targeted bills, a bipartisan, comprehensive reform of the nation's most important federal education legislation still seems far from wrapping up, according to congressional insiders on the House side.
In a closed door meeting with House education leadership, it was noted that not only are the bills cleared through committee not on the schedule for a full House vote, that they have not seen any movement from the Senate on their proposed plan. Without a clear plan from both chambers, the bill is sure to take a back seat to other pressing legislation.
Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, Labor, and Pensions, declined an interview last week with education reporters about specific plans for reauthorization. While he joked he about not being able to meet any timelines issued, it was noted that the committee under his watch currently does not have a public draft of legislation.
Meanwhile at the Department of Education, the plan to issue state blanket waivers this school year has lost steam after several prominent Democrats spoke out against the plan. Senator Harkin has expressed his discontent for the waivers; so has Congressman Miller, the top Democrat on the House education panel. Insiders predict that with the staunch opposition, Secretary Duncan has accepted a momentary truce for an unspoken deadline of reauthorization in 2011.
Secretary Duncan Says Education Is Hurt by Politics
Last week, at an ongoing education summit hosted by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan delivered some harsh remarks about not only the state of the Iowa school systems, but the overarching problems he believes our entire country's schools are facing.
Secretary Duncan said Iowa's schools are "slouching toward mediocrity." Once a leader in education, Duncan indicated the slide toward the middle in state rankings comes from a combination of "complacency, low standards, clinging to the status quo - and politics."
"I keep saying, frankly, I think politics has hurt education," Duncan asserted as he spoke to over 1,600 teachers and education policymakers. The Secretary indicated that education should not be a partisan issue, rather a non-ideological push to do the right thing for children.
Secretary Duncan spoke of his Department's reform agenda, stepping away from a fight with unions, but indicating that they must be part of the solution. Duncan did, however, reiterate that clinging to the status quo is part of the overarching problem with schools across the country.
Among his reform goals, Secretary Duncan stressed that the teaching profession must be elevated, including making it possible for excellent teachers to make $115,000 by age 30 based upon performance pay measures. In his remarks, Duncan was hopeful that education reform could be accomplished in Washington, D.C. in the coming months, with real change to No Child Left Behind being the ultimate goal.
Secretary Duncan's participation in Iowa's week-long education summit will set the tone for public education heading into next school year nationwide. While sobering budget realities and elements of policy initiates are debatable, the recognition that partisan politics should not be part of our overarching education discourse is encouraging at back-to-school time.
Kline and Hanna Seek to Alleviate Federal Regulatory Burden on States and School Districts
Following recent hearings on accountability and flexibility in funds, House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Congressman Richard Hanna (R-NY) sent a letter to Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, requesting more information about costly regulatory burdens facing states and school districts across the country.
In the letter, Chairman Kline and Rep. Hanna state :
The regulatory requirements attached to federal education dollars are an important part of informing policymakers and the public how educational goals are being achieved. However, they should not create an undue burden on schools and districts. The recent hearings on this issue have raised significant questions about the aggregate burden placed on states and school districts, and the extent to which the information being collected by the Department of Education is fully utilized. Local educational agencies (LEAs) consistently raised concerns regarding the amount of time and effort needed to comply with federal requirements, noting it diverts resources away from students and classrooms.
Chairman Kline and Congressman Hanna asked the Government Accountability Office to provide information about the most costly and challenging federal regulatory requirements placed on states and local school districts. Additionally, the members requested more information about any actions undertaken by the Department of Education to ensure reporting requirements are providing useful data to teachers and school leaders, as well as any of the department's efforts to alleviate the regulatory burden for school districts by eliminating duplicative requirements.
Click here to read the full letter.
Third Education Reform Bill Passed in House Committee
On July 15, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved the State and Local Funding Flexibility Act (H.R. 2445), a bill that would provide states and local school districts more flexibility in the use of federal education funds. This legislation marks the committee's third in a series of bills designed to reform current elementary and secondary education law, or No Child Left Behind.
"Particularly in this tough economy, schools need the freedom to target resources to the programs and initiatives that will have the greatest positive impact on student achievement," Chairman John Kline (R-MN) stated. "The State and Local Funding Flexibility Act takes a new approach by putting decision-making back in the hands of the state and local officials who can develop effective programs and initiatives that best prepare children for success."
Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) praised the legislation for finally giving school officials what they have repeatedly asked for - the flexibility to dedicate more resources toward the programs and initiatives that will have the greatest benefit for their students. "This is an effort for child-centered education with local control. This [legislation] eliminates bureaucratic red tape and encourages local innovation to reform public education," Roby said.
This is the third bill in a series to overhaul elements of No Child Left Behind; education has taken a back seat to the debt ceiling talks this summer. While there has been some movement in the committee, these bills are not scheduled currently for full House consideration.
To read a bill summary of the State and Local Funding Flexibility Act, click here .To view markup materials, amendments, and an archived webcast, click here .