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AAE Federal Update February 14, 2012
posted by: Alix | February 14, 2012, 10:59 PM   

President Obama Releases 2013 Budget

Yesterday at a community college in northern Virginia, President Obama unveiled his new budget for fiscal year 2013. The $3.8 trillion budget earmarks $69.8 billion in mere discretionary spending for the U.S. Department of Education in the next fiscal year, an increase of $1.7 billion, or 2.5 percent, over the current budget year.


In his education plans, President Obama plans on strengthening Race to the Top competitive grants, job trainings, and Pell grants. Among the highlights:

  • $30 billion to states to pay teacher salaries, including $5 billion dedicated to a competition aimed at bolstering teacher-quality initiatives.
  • $30 billion to revamp school buildings and facilities nationwide.
  • A $300 million increase in Race to the Top competition funds.
  • $8 billion in new money for a Community College Career Fund, which would be jointly administered by the Education Department and the U.S. Department of Labor.
While the reaction to the budget is still ongoing, congressional leaders have issued various statements. Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee Representative John Kline (R-MN) called the plan too costly. "The administration continues to tighten the federal government's grip on the nation's education system, prescribing more intrusion in K-12 classrooms ... more unsustainable costs for taxpayers, and more uncertainty for students of all ages."

Click here
for more details on the federal education budget.

Ten States Approved for NCLB Flexibility 


2012 marked the 10 year anniversary of the heavily debated and controversial No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, the nation's flagship federal K-12 legislation. What began as a bi-partisan effort to track schools and measure accountability, has grown into a headache for many states who are struggling to comply with various regulations.

Last year, after several failed attempts to reform the law, the Department of Education introduced a waiver system that would allow states to apply for regulatory waivers to bypass NCLB provisions in favor of education reforms backed by the administration. Hailed as a compromise by education reformers, 38 states have applied for the waivers so far, with 10 states receiving special waivers last week.

The ten states approved for flexibility are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

"The goals of No Child Left Behind were the right ones," President Obama said, pointing to standards, accountability and closing the achievement gap. "We've got to stay focused on those goals," he said. "But we need to do it in a way that doesn't force teachers to teach to the test, or encourage schools to lower their standards to avoid being labeled as failures."

To get flexibility from NCLB, states must adopt and have a plan to implement college and career-ready standards. They must also create comprehensive systems of teacher and principal development, evaluation and support that include factors beyond test scores, such as principal observation, peer review, student work, or parent and student feedback.

States receiving waivers no longer have to meet 2014 targets set by NCLB but they must set new performance targets for improving student achievement and closing achievement gaps. They also must have accountability systems that recognize and reward high-performing schools and those that are making significant gains, while targeting rigorous and comprehensive interventions for the lowest-performing schools.

Click here
for more information on the waiver plans and to track progress by state.

House Committee Holds Hearing on Use of Union Dues for Politics 


The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last week held a hearing on the issue of forced unionism and the ability to force employees to pay for political activity with their dues. Being presented as an issue of economic freedom, committee members questioned the practice that pits unions against governors, state government officials and fellow workers who are unwilling to pay for partisan causes.

Union workers in various states testified about their experiences. "I feel like a prisoner to the union and its causes when I find that my union dues are going toward political purposes which I greatly oppose," says Sally Coomer of Duvall, Washington. Terry Bowman, a UAW member in Michigan, echoes that view, saying, "My union was using my union dues to push a political agenda that I oppose."

Congressman Darrell Issa, (R-CA) the chairman of the committee, said this is not an anti-union issue, but one of workers' rights."Do workers and unionized organizations have a right to know more than they currently know?" he asked. "What it's being used for, and whether in fact it has to be taken from them."

Currently, the states govern most of these policies. Currently in 27 states, unions can automatically deduct money from workers' paychecks, whether they want to be a member the union or not. The other 23 states have laws that prevent automatic dues, and various states have different policies for public sector employees like teachers.

Congressional Republicans Introduce New Amended Legislation 

In an event at the American Enterprise Institute last week, U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) introduced two amended pieces of legislation to restructure the federal role in elementary and secondary education. The proposals reflect the latest effort by House Republicans to enact lasting reforms to No Child Left Behind.

The Student Success Act (H.R. 3989) and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act (H.R. 3990) will replace current accountability provisions (known as Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP) with state-developed accountability systems, roll back antiquated federal teacher mandates in favor of local teacher evaluation systems, and grant state and local leaders enhanced flexibility in the use of federal funds.

While there is a consensus that NCLB in its current form is not working, the administration's waiver plan to bypass Congress has been hailed a "quick fix" by congressional leaders. Chairman Kline stated, "We cannot let this process stagnate. Waivers or no waivers, we have to change this law. And there's bipartisan support on that."

While the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act are similar to the draft proposals released in early January, there are a few key changes in the final legislation:

  • The Student Success Act restores current law's Title I state administrative cap to ensure federal funds flow to school districts to serve low-income students.
  • Under the Student Success Act, states must implement accountability systems, academic standards, and assessments within two years.
  • The Student Success Act rewrites and updates the Rural Education Achievement Program to remain consistent with current law.
Click here to review a summary of the major changes.

National Governors Association Issues Education Policy Proposal 


Last week, the National Governors Association released a new federal policy position statement on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind.  In the wake of controversy and a changing policy climate, the coalitions of U.S. Governors have a unique perspective on federal education policy as their administrations are tasked with meeting the guidelines.

According to the analysis, while America's elementary and secondary education system has evolved over the decades with changing economic pressures, intense globalization, and rising expectations for all students, too many of our students are still unprepared for college.

The report highlights key provisions for NCLB reform. Overall, the governors believe federal education policy should embrace a stronger state-led accountability system, reward state and school successes, differentiate state and locally-led strategies to turnaround the lowest performing schools, build on state policies to support effective teachers and leaders, and accelerate ongoing state-led education innovation.

Click here to read the full proposal. 

Congressional Leaders React to Administration's Plans for Education Reform 


Following President Obama's focus on educational initiatives in last month's State of the Union address, congressional leaders have had mixed reactions about the administration's ambitious education goals. In quoting Abraham Lincoln, President Obama outlined a vision for an improved education system in which more control is granted to states and schools. He pledged to get rid of regulations that do not work, and endorsed more flexibility in our classrooms.

In a statement to their stakeholders, House Education and the Workforce Committee Republican members were heartened by the president's remarks, but cautioned the top down approach to education reform. "Across the country, state and local education leaders have successfully implemented creative reforms that expand transparency, enhance accountability, and help close student achievement gaps. Unfortunately, the overly-prescriptive federal mandates and regulations under No Child Left Behind often stand in the way of this important progress," said U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN).

The committee outlined a new focus for education, one that "puts decisions back in the hands of the people who know our children best." The committee is currently moving forward with a comprehensive plan to reform NCLB, despite the administration's efforts to propose regulatory waivers in exchange for reforms. 

Click here for committee bill summaries.

NAEP Scores Released  


According to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), math and reading scores remain generally flat compared to previous years. Considered the "nation's report card," the test is thought to be the premier snapshot of math and reading achievement among K-12 students.

Among the reading results, the average fourth-grade reading score in 2011 remained unchanged from 2009, but were 4 points higher than in 1992, indicated a slight increase over the last twenty years.  Among eighth-graders, reading score in 2011 were 1 point higher than in 2009, and 5 points higher than in 1992, suggesting another small increase over the same twenty-year period.

In examining the math scores, while the increases were not significant with regard to the 2009 NAEP assessments, the twenty-year increase remains significant. According to the data, among both grades 4 and 8, the average score in 2011 was 1 point higher than in 2009. Scores for grade 4 were 28 points higher in 2011 than in 1990 and 21 points higher in 2011 than in 1990 for grade 8. 

Following the relatively small increases, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan remained cautiously optimistic.  "The modest increases in NAEP scores are reason for concern as much as optimism. While student achievement is up since 2009 in both grades in mathematics and in 8th grade reading, it's clear that achievement is not accelerating fast enough for our nation's children to compete in the knowledge economy of the 21st Century."

Visit the NAEP website for thorough analysis and state by state findings.

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