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Federal Update November 20, 2012
posted by: Ruthie | November 20, 2012, 05:27 PM   

Obama Administration Faces Education Hurdles

Experts contend that President Obama's second term will be bogged down with tying up loose ends and overcoming fiscal hurdles in education. With the looming fiscal cliff, the Obama administration and Congress will undoubtedly be debating commonsense budget issues.

Among the challenges is sequestration, the automatic, government-wide spending cuts slated to cut nearly 8.2% of the funding to almost all federal education programs. If action is not taken by the end of the year, programs intended to reduce educational inequities will take a hit of $1.3 billion and special education will be cut by more than $1 billion, according to the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

After dealing with the unpopular issue of budget cuts, the Obama administration's goals are less clear. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has alluded to staying on for another term and renewing focus on education reform priorities, including the promotion of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers and competitive grants.

Further, lawmakers are more than half a decade overdue to reauthorize NCLB and there is strong bipartisan support for a resolution in the next four years. Chairman of the Senate Education Committee Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) told reporters, "While the administration's efforts to grant waivers are helpful for states operating under the tenets of No Child Left Behind, these fixes are temporary and piecemeal."

Department of Education Honors Schools with National Blue Ribbon Awards

Last week at an annual luncheon hosted in the nation's capital, the Department of Education honored 314 schools across the country as the 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools.

Secretary Duncan proclaimed, "Our nation has no greater responsibility than helping all children realize their full potential. Schools honored with the National Blue Ribbon Schools award are committed to accelerating student achievement and preparing students for success in college and careers. Their work reflects the conviction that every child has promise and that education is the surest pathway to a strong, secure future."

The National Blue Ribbon Schools program recognizes public and private elementary, middle and high schools where students perform at very high levels or where significant improvements are being made in students' levels of academic achievement.

In addition to granting schools the National Blue Ribbon award, the program also awards the esteemed Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding Leadership. Named after the founder of the National Blue Ribbon award, the Department of Education bestowed this distinction to seven principals of the 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools.

Among these principals were several inspiring figures. For example, Principal Pam Camper of Russell D. Jones Elementary School in Rogers, Arkansas, re-organized her elementary school to maximize learning for her students, nearly three-quarters of whom are English learners, by hiring bilingual teachers and pairing classroom and English language development teachers as co-teachers. Through her outreach, parent attendance at parent-teacher conferences is now 100%.

To read more about the National Blue Ribbon Award or the Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding Leadership, check out the Department of Education's website.

Race to the Top-District Competition in Full Swing

The Department of Education received a record-setting 371 applications, representing more than 1,100 districts, for the Race to the Top-District Competition, ending December 31, 2012. Judges will review applications based on how well schools personalize education for students, provide school leaders with tools equipping them to best do their jobs.

The Department of Education plans to support 15-25 high quality proposals from across a variety of districts. The four-year awards will range from $5 million to $40 million, depending on the number of students and faculty they serve.

"We're thrilled at the response we've received from districts across the country that have developed innovative plans to drive education reform in the classroom," said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "We want to support local efforts that will close the achievement gap and transform the learning environment by funding those plans that have a clear vision and track record of success."

Click here to view the list of districts that have already applied.

Head Start Program Faces Uncertain Future

In previous years, the federal government spent more than $7 billion on Head Start, a program designed to help low-income children prepare for success in school and in life. Now, with the fiscal cliff looming, leaders in the House and Senate are attempting to obtain information about Head Start’s effectiveness and implementation.

The chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Congressman John Kline (R-MN) , and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) wrote a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), asking for both a never-completed study of the program and an explanation about the high costs of the evaluation.

HHS spokesman, Mark Weber, responded in an email, arguing, "Head Start is an important investment that helps prepare our kids to compete with kids all over the world for good-paying, middle-class jobs. The Obama administration has strengthened and reformed the program to improve quality and accountability and ensure a good experience for every participant. We have received the letter [from Congress] and are preparing a response. The study will be released when it is completed."

2012 is the first time Head Start recipients have had to re-compete in order to maintain funding. The Obama administration incorporated a competition into the Head Start Program as a means of weeding out low-quality providers of services in the wake of difficult budget decisions. If the study is released before the fiscal cliff is resolved, it could influence how lawmakers might deal with pushing to cut or spare Head Start in budget negotiations with the White House.

Secretary Arne Duncan Argues for NCLB Flexibility at Education Trust Awards Ceremony

In the recent "Dispelling the Myth" awards ceremony for the Education Trust, Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan defended granting flexibility to schools under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). He argued that the Obama administration's goal to grant waivers in exchange for education reforms has produced results. "Contrary to what you may have read, these waivers will push states to dramatically accelerate achievement and attainment for disadvantages students and students of color," Duncan stressed.

Duncan continued, "Our goals for waivers in remaking No Child Left Behind (NCLB) are clear: protect children, set a high bar, and provide as much flexibility as possible. But, frankly, that is simply a starting point, not an ending point. As important as goals are, what is most important are actual outcomes for children. What matters most is results: whether kids are learning, and if achievement gaps are narrowing dramatically."

Setting the tone for the next four years, experts have warned that regardless of the success of the waiver plan, a full scale congressional fix is necessary to ensure long term stability in K-12 education.

Click here to read the text of the full speech.

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