Education in State of the Union Address
Last week, President Obama spent significant time during the State of the Union address discussing his administration's vision for American education. "Teachers matter," said President Obama in beginning his education remarks. "Instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo let's offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren't helping kids learn."
In his remarks, President Obama called for increased flexibility under No Child Left Behind and argued for popular education reforms like performance pay and tenure reform. He advocated for increased funding and investment in education and called on Congress to act on what he called an "economic issue."
"At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced states to lay off thousands of teachers. We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000," President Obama highlighted. "Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging in their own pocket for school supplies, just to make a difference."
With regard to drop out rates, the President mentioned a new plan to increase graduation rates among youth. "We also know that when students don't walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma. So, tonight, I am proposing that every state requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18."
President Obama also took credit for his Race to the Top competitive grants initiative that allowed states to apply for funding in exchange for administration-backed reforms.
Click here to view the entire address.
National School Choice Week in Congress
Last week, January 22-January 28, 2012, marked the second annual National School Choice Week. In celebration, House Education and Workforce Committee members called on leaders in Congress to rally around the cause of educational options, an issue that has received traditionally bipartisan support in Washington.
On the federal level, school choice has been a goal of many in Congress. Just last year, members of congress approved a groundbreaking law that expanded charter school funding. It was considered one of the few bi-partisan victories of the 112th Congress. Additionally, options including virtual education have been made priorities of the House Education and Workforce Committee legislation in the year ahead.
In 2004, Congress approved the groundbreaking D.C. School Choice Incentive Act. The law established the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), a federal initiative that continues to offer hope and opportunities to parents who wish to send their children to a school of their choice.
According to House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN), school choice programs like D.C. OSP have "engaged parents, motivated children, and helped the dream of a diploma become a reality." The program has successfully increased graduation rates to more than 90 percent for students previously enrolled in low-performing schools.
Members of Congress also took to the House floor to recognize this yearly celebration of options. Click here to watch Congressman Randy Hultgren (IL-R) address his colleagues in advocating for options for students in his district.
Congressional Committee on Education and the Workforce Release Video Series
Last week, House Education and the Workforce Committee Republicans released a series of videos that explore new draft legislative proposals to reform current federal education law, known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
- Congressman Lou Barletta (R-PA) discusses the need for state accountability systems in K-12 education.
- Congressman Mike Kelly (R-PA) on supporting effective teachers in K-12 Schools.
- Congresswoman Kristi Noem (R-SD) explains the need for flexibility in rural schools.
The draft legislation is part of the committee's ongoing efforts to enact reforms to K-12 education by improving accountability, increasing flexibility, and supporting more effective teachers in the classroom. The House legislation is being pushed despite to the Senate's bipartisan draft of NCLB, which was stalled before the holidays.
Congressional Republicans Take Action on NCLB Overhaul
"We Can't Wait," has become a staple slogan for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with regard to education reform in recent months. Despite a long effort to bring the Senate's bi-partisan No Child Left Behind overhaul to the floor for a vote, the bill has once again been shelved in favor of less-controversial legislation in this high-stakes election year.
Despite the climate, the House of Representatives Education and Workforce Committee has continued to pursue their own fix to the ten-year-old law. In the first session of the 112th Congress, members of the committee have conducted various school visits and hearings throughout the country, researching effective policies for a possible overhaul that would promote flexibility, choice, and accountability.
To kick off the second session of Congress, House Education and the Workforce Committee Republicans released two additional pieces of draft legislation designed to enhance school accountability, improve flexibility, and support more effective teachers in American classrooms. The Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act build upon last year's legislative efforts are designed to move Congress in the direction of NCLB reforms.
Last week, House Education and the Workforce Committee Republicans released a series of position papers that further explain the new draft proposals. Click here to read the series and review their plans.
While the legislation has yet to leave committee, the House Education and Workforce Committee have a better track record with regard to bill passage than their Senate counterparts. Last year, the only federal legislation passed in Congress was the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act, which was approved by the full U.S. House of Representatives with strong bi-partisan support.
Federal Education Budget Breakdown
On December 23, 2011, the President signed into law an omnibus appropriations bill (H.R. 2055) providing funding for the U.S. Department of Education.
Overall, the bill appropriates $68.1 billion in discretionary spending for the agency's education programs, a decrease of $233 million from Fiscal Year 2011, but an increase for certain programs. Specifically, the bill includes:
- $14.5 billion for Title I grants to local education agencies, a $74 million increase;
- $11.6 billion for special education state grants, a $112 million increase;
- $2.47 billion to help states improve the quality of their teachers and leaders;
- $160 million for the Striving Readers (PK-12) literacy program; and
- $22.8 billion in discretionary funding for Pell Grants for low- and middle-income college undergraduates, which will support maintaining the maximum grant at $5,550.
Among other key programs, the bill includes $549 million for a new round of Race to the Top; $149 million for the Investing in Innovation Fund; $60 million for the Promise Neighborhood initiative, which is double its FY 2011 funding level; and $534 million for the School Improvement Grant program.
Click here to review the budget in greater detail.
Internal Revenue Service Proposal to Affect Charter School Pensions
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently issued a proposed regulation called the "Determination of Government Plan Status," a plan that would adversely affect charter school educators and their pensions. National charter school advocates cite that this regulation would force states to prohibit charter school teachers from participating in state retirement plans.
As it stands now, every single state that authorizes charter schools either requires or permits charter school participation in the state's retirement system, just like any other public school system. Therefore, this regulation would negatively impact nearly all charter school teachers in the country who benefit from state pensions funds.
In total, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools estimates more than 90,000 charter school teachers - more than 90% of the country's charter school workforce - will be affected by the proposed regulations. All of these teachers will be forced to either leave their charter schools or lose their accrued pension benefits if this policy is enacted.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has set up a webpage to send letters to Secretaries Geithner, Duncan, and members of Congress in hopes of preserving charter school teacher benefits. Click here for more information.