Follow AAE on:

Subscribe to RSS Feed:

AAE Federal Update April 4, 2011
posted by: Alix | April 05, 2011, 08:28 PM   

House Reauthorizes SOAR Act

Last week, the SOAR Act passed the U.S. House on a 225–195 vote, reauthorizing and expanding the successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP), an initiative aimed at providing scholarships to private schools to low income students in Washington, D.C. The SOAR Act not only restores the DCOSP it also expands the program, allowing more students to receive scholarships in our nation's capital. Would you add some stats about how kids using these scholarships are doing better academically and are more likely to attend college? I know there is good data on the program.

Congressionally mandated evaluations of the DCOSP conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, revealed that scholarship students were making gains in reading achievement compared with their public school peers. While just more than half of all students in D.C. public schools graduate, 91% of students who received a voucher and used it to attend private school graduated.

Many are calling the reauthorization of the SOAR Act just the beginning of new school choice friendly policies nationwide. "This is a conversation started in Washington, D.C. that should be taking place nationwide as we talk about the wider issue of education reform. I am thrilled by today's reauthorization passage in the House and commend Speaker John Boehner for his efforts on this critical issue," stated Congressman Buck McKeon (R-CA), a senior member of the committee.

The bill now moves to the Senate where Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are leading the bipartisan coalition in support of passage.

Federal Hearing Held to Union Fiscal Accountability

The House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, chaired by Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN), held a hearing last week entitled,"The Future of Union Transparency and Accountability," in an effort to ensure unions are held accountable to their membership and public interest regarding their finances.

In his opening remarks, Chairman Roe said, "...Workers deserve to know how their hard-earned money is being spent. Congress has a long-standing responsibility to shine a bright light on how the dues of union workers' are being spent. In 2009, unions reported collecting more than $8 billion in workers' dues. This figure alone highlights the importance of union transparency."

Union dues are big business and their financial documents should be properly filled and available to interested parties according to congressional leaders. Committee members asserted that under the Obama administration many of these safeguards meant to protect workers have been rolled back to appease union leaders.

Those who testified argued for stronger safeguards, "Union workers have a right to know where their money goes," testified Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute and a former chief economist for the Bush Labor Department. "This is a matter of fairness to the rank-and-file union members who should have the same right as any shareholder who is allowed to go over corporate books."

But Rep. Rob Andrews of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, dismissed the hearing as "a political exercise" aimed at stifling the voice of unions under attack in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere.

Federal Requirements for School Lunches Prove Costly

States and localities are struggling to come to terms with new regulations mandated by the recent passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, effectively rewriting the rules about public school breakfast and lunch programs.

The first rewrite of school-meal rules in over 15 years, the proposed standards aim to cut sodium, boost the amount and types of fruits and vegetables students are offered, cut saturated fat, increase whole grains, and limit calories. The USDA is still accepting comments until the end of April, drawing lobbying efforts from organic food companies and the National Potato Council – just to name a few.

While the final regulations have yet to be released, the inevitable multi-layered regulations have school districts feeling uneasy about the possible costs involved. Experts estimate the law will cost $6.8 billion in food and labor over the course of five years, not to mention the need for new kitchen equipment.

The Obama administration admits to the increase in costs and regulation, "It is difficult to have one-size-fits-all," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told school nutrition directors in last month. "I feel your pain."

The cost was the main reason the American Association of School Administrators, the National School Boards Association, and the Council of the Great City Schools lobbied against the nutrition law, a cornerstone of Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign to combat childhood obesity. Due to the cost, the state of the economy, and the budget shortfalls faced by school districts several advocacy groups are calling for more time for districts to implement the law.

Secretary Duncan Calls for an End to "2 Percent Rule"

Under the current version of No Child left Behind, states have been using the so called "2 percent rule" to test children with disabilities, much to the dismay of disability advocacy groups and the Obama administration. Under the rule, states give different exams to children with disabilities, then count up to 2 percent of the proficient scores for the sake of making adequate yearly progress mandated by NCLB.

Not only are the tests different, only a handful of states use tests approved by the federal government, including Louisiana, Kansas, Texas, and for some grades, North Carolina.

Secretary Duncan advocated for fair treatment amongst all students. "We can no longer celebrate the success of one group of students if another group of students is still struggling," said Secretary Duncan at the American Association of People with Disabilities Conference. "We have to be open and honest about where we fall short."

According to Secretary Duncan, the answer to educating students with disabilities in the past was to isolate them and deny them the same educational experiences other students were experiencing. While the outlook for disabled students is improving, 60 percent of students with disabilities today spend 80 percent of their time in the regular school environment.

While those numbers are a great improvement, the Obama administration would like to see them rise even more under their proposed changes to No Child Left Behind and advances in special education.

Secretary Duncan vowed to end the rule that obscures an accurate portrait of the academic needs of America's students with disabilities, citing the need for all children to be evaluated on an equal playing field.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Submit a comment
 (not published)
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters