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AAE Federal Update October 25, 2011
posted by: Alix | October 25, 2011, 06:41 PM   

Full-Scale NCLB Overhaul Clears Senate Committee

On the heels of Senator Harkin's (D-IA) decision to ax the major teacher evaluation provision from his No Child Left Behind overhaul draft, and AAE's statement of support for educator accountability, the debate over a comprehensive bill concluded last week on Capitol Hill with a draft of a NCLB re-write clearing committee.

Overall the version approved by the committee drastically scales back the accountability system championed by the bipartisan coalition who drafted the first NCLB law. Among the other key changes, the bill would:
  • Eliminate the law's main measurement, known as adequate yearly progress (AYP).
  • Eliminate federally mandated intervention for all but the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools and schools with achievement gaps between low-income students, minority students, and their average performing peers;
  • Establish a myriad of federal interventions for school turnaround based the current School Improvement Grant program;
  • Encourage states to create standards for college and career readiness; and
  • Streamline the U.S. Department of Education by consolidating 82 programs into about 40 broader funding groups.
Chairman Harkin hopes to move the bill to the floor of the Senate before Thanksgiving, giving it a chance for passage by Christmas. A swift passage would negate the need for state-specific Department of Education NCLB waivers.

Third Teacher Union Bail-Out Stops Short in Senate

Among the many new spending initiatives in President Obama's stalled jobs bill is the

flagged $30 billion meant to hire teachers, preserve current jobs, and improve school buildings across the country. With the Senate blocking both the jobs bill and individual legislation backed by the teacher unions, President Obama is embarking on a bus tour this week to gain support for the individual portions of his plan.

Bookended by the new political slogan, "We can't wait," President Obama and company plan to gain support for the plan on the road in communities hit hard by the economy. While injecting federal dollars into state budgets is a strategy that President Obama is calling essential, Republicans in both the House and Senate are arguing that the plan spends money that we don't have with an uncertain outcome. As the Obama administration learned in the aftermath of the first stimulus, it is extremely difficult to quantify how many jobs are created or saved through federal spending.

Further, in August 2010, another smaller stimulus known as the "teacher union bailout" was signed into law to the tune of $10 billion. Despite this intervention, little changed and budgets remained slashed. Congressional Republicans argue that this current bill is just more of the same.


Still, should the jobs bill eventually fail completely, union-backed Democrats see the legislation as not only an appeal to their union bases, but a tool in painting congressional Republicans as obstructionists. 

Investing in Innovation Federal Grants Gain Popularity

The federally funded competitive grant program, "Investing in Innovation" or i3, was first introduced during President Obama's first stimulus bill and was recently extended by Congress earlier this year as part of the federal fiscal 2011 budget deal. The program seeks to find innovative and promising education strategies and, despite funding cutbacks, is becoming popular in a time when districts are feeling the effects of budget shortfalls.

Last year's $650 million i3 budget resulted in 49 winners-down from 1,698 applications that proposed a total of $12.8 billion in innovative education projects. This year's competition has key differences, including encouraging rural districts to apply, and relaxing provisions that mandate funds would be allocated based on a private contribution match.

This year with $150 million on the table in the initiative's second round, 587 applicants are pitching the U.S. Department of Education on projects worth some $3 billion in all. Winners will be announced next year.

Potato Controversy in School Meals Debate

As part of a push to make school meals healthier, the Department of Agriculture in partnership with the Department of Education have proposed removing white potatoes from all federally subsidized school breakfasts and limiting them dramatically in lunches. Cutting back on the starchy vegetable was meant to reduce the lunchtime tater tot intake in public schools; however, it was met with tremendous backlash during Senate debates.

Last week, the Senate moved to block the potato proposal by adopting an amendment to the 2012 spending bill for the Agriculture Department. Approved by unanimous consent, the amendment prohibits the department from setting maximum limits on the serving of vegetables in any school meals.

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) claimed the limits were unnecessary. "The proposed rule would prevent schools from serving an ear of fresh corn one day and a baked potato another day of the same week, an utterly absurd result." As the Senate came together in a rare example of bipartisanship, other stakeholders agreed with the amendment, calling the limits severely constricting to school flexibility in times of financial constraint.   

Romney and Perry Spar over Race to the Top

As the field narrows for the Republican presidential nomination, candidates have begun to highlight their stances on education and the role of the federal government heading into the next election. While the field remains generally united under a platform of local control and flexibility, an exchange between front runners Governor Rick Perry of Texas and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney over Race to the Top made for interesting education headlines.

In the Florida debate, Perry accused Romney of being the only person in the field in favor of "Obama's Race to the Top" program of competitive federal grants. Supporting Race to the Top, Perry claimed, is "an important difference between the rest of the people on this stage and one person who wants to run for the presidency... That is not conservative."

Romney denied the charge asserting that, "Education has to be held at the local and state level, not at the federal level. We need to get the federal government out of education." Romney added that he thinks Duncan has it right in regards to measuring teacher effectiveness and getting rid of teachers who aren't performing well.

Without this exchange, education views remained similar with Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum agreeing with the front runners about local control. Only Texas Congressman Ron Paul and Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachman favored eliminating the Department of Education entirely.  

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