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AAE Federal Update November 22, 2011
posted by: Alix | November 22, 2011, 10:55 PM   

The Congressional Supercommittee & the Education Impact

With the November 23 deadline looming and the failure of the congressional "supercommittee" to reach a meaningful debt-reduction agreement, automatic spending cuts are now expected for agencies across the federal government. What impact this failure will have on federal education budgets remains to be seen as states will now potentially be forced to deal with dire financial realities.

In light of the budget shortfalls facing states and localities across the country pre-deficit talks, any cuts have potential to have an impact on struggling schools. In examining the numbers, with property tax revenue down, school budgets have suffered, leading to further strain if federal aid dries up entirely.

Without the supercommittee deal, the threatened 10-year, $1.2 trillion cuts will be levied on the Department of Defense and other agencies including the Department of Education. The Congressional Budget Office has projected what could happen to public education if the cuts are instituted as planned. While the cuts are seen as automatic, congressional leaders will likely try to push through legislation designed to soften the blow in the coming months.

Duncan Speaks on Issues of the Day in Bloomberg Interview

In a comprehensive interview with Bloomberg News last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discussed everything from the 2012 presidential election to No Child Left Behind, and the Penn State University scandal.

While Secretary Duncan claimed he hasn't been following the GOP presidential debates because he has "a real job to do," Duncan did comment on the view held by many Republican candidates of either limiting the role the federal government plays in education or outright eliminating the Department of Education. "What I will say is that we're always trying to think through what is the correct federal role ... so I think there were some things going on at the federal level that weren't helpful."

Duncan went on to express his disappointment with the current bill to renew NCLB, approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee last month. In particular, the department is unhappy with the bill's handling of teacher evaluation and school accountability. "There are some good things in the bill, but you don't want to walk away from accountability, you don't want to walk away from focusing on achievement gaps, you don't want to walk away from making sure we're rewarding great teachers and great principals and shining a spotlight on excellence in education," Duncan stressed.

With regard to the alleged child abuse at Penn State University, Secretary Duncan said the department would conduct a thorough investigation and report back."We will have a team that will be on the campus shortly, and they will do a thoughtful and thorough investigation. And we'll just go where the facts lead us."

Click here to watch the full interview.

Pizza as Vegetable Debate Gains National Attention

In a turn of events that has led to many late-night comedy jokes, cafeteria pizza has become a news item over its classification as a vegetable under a federal spending bill. Under the guidelines, a slice of cheese pizza would count toward vegetable minimums for public school lunches. A petition protesting the clause is now being circulated to amend the bill headed for President Obama's desk.

As the guidelines go, while other vegetables and fruits are counted as a serving only if there is at least a half-cup on students' plates, just one-eighth of a cup of tomato paste on a slice of pizza counts as a serving. The frozen food industry lobby has argued that any more tomato paste and the pizza would be "inedible."

Just last year, Congress told the U.S. Department of Agriculture to rewrite the rules on school lunch, a measure that passed with bipartisan support. Despite the petition circulated heavily by Democrats, The Hill reports that more Democrats than Republicans in the House approved the spending measure that contains rules about tomato paste. Due to the pizza mandates being folded into a bigger spending bill involving several other federal departments, the bill is expected to stay as is.

President Obama Announces Head Start Changes

As part of the ongoing call for improved early childhood education, President Obama last week advocated for more funding for Head Start programs if they are in compliance with his new outlined accountability reforms.

"We can't wait to give more of our youngest children the same basic opportunities we all want for our kids. That's why, I'm announcing a new rule that will increase the quality of Head Start programs around the country," President Obama stressed. "After trying for months to work with Congress on education, we've decided to take matters into our own hands.  Our future is at stake.  Our children deserve action.  And we can't wait for Congress any longer."

The Department of Education says that Head Start programs, which are federally funded, will be subject to competition for funds instead of automatic grants and will be based on the competitive grant model of Race to the Top.  The new standards state that any low-performing program will have to compete for funding if they have deficiencies discovered in their review process, fail to establish and use school-readiness goals for children, or demonstrate low performance in the classroom quality evaluation. Programs whose licenses or grants have been revoked, or have money-management issues will also be subject to competition.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called the standards a step in the right direction, "With this new rule we are introducing unprecedented accountability in the Head Start program." 

Congressional Subcommittee Examines Federal Role in Education Research

Last week, the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, chaired by Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), held a hearing entitled "Education Research: Identifying Effective Programs to Support Students and Teachers" to better understand the federal role of education research.

Under the Education Sciences Reform Act up for renewal, the federal government supports states, school districts, and the private sector in conducting education research. State, local, and federal policymakers rely on this research to evaluate federal education programs and to determine adequate funding levels.

Congressman Hunter described the value of education research in his remarks, stating, "The resultant data allows teachers, parents, and officials to gain a greater understanding of successful interventions, school performance, and student achievement... Through the Education Sciences Reform Act and related initiatives, we have made great strides in assessing the quality of K-12 schools, protecting taxpayers' investments, and identifying successful educational practices."

During the hearing, congressional leaders were versed in ways education research has helped school districts improve student outcomes. Former Director of the Institute for Education Sciences Dr. Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst explained research on high school start times shows students perform better across the board when classes begin later in the morning.

Despite obvious successes, committee members called for increased efficiency in future research and the adoption of streamlined electronic data.

Click here
to watch the full hearing.

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