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AAE Federal Update May 18, 2011
posted by: Alix | May 18, 2011, 01:57 PM   

President Obama Gives High School Commencement Address

President Obama stopped in Memphis, Tennessee yesterday to deliver Booker T. Washington High School's key note graduation address as part of the Department of Education's Commencement Challenge for 2011. Washington High secured the historic address from the President by illustrating how it overcame a history of disciplinary problems and high dropout rates by implementing reforms and turning the school into a sanctuary for troubled kids in inner city Memphis.

"Every commencement is a day of celebration," said the President in his address. "But this one is especially hopeful." President Obama shared the success story of Washington High School with students, parents, and the notable Tennessee legislators and leaders in attendance, highlighting the significant turnaround the school has seen in the last few years.

Since 2007, graduation rates went from 55% to 82% in 2010. Innovative reforms included separate freshmen academies for boys and girls and a greater choice not only of advanced placement classes, but vocational studies as well. Opportunities for both rigorous academic courses and real world training proved instrumental in turning around the once struggling school.

Click here to watch the President's entire speech.

Congressman Duncan Hunter Introduces First Federal Education Reform Bill

Last week, Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, introduced the first in a series of education reform bills planned by the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Congressman Hunter's legislation, the Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act (HR 1891), would begin the process of weeding out inefficient unnecessary, and costly K-12 education programs. 

Under current law, the Department of Education operates more than 80 programs tied to K-12 classrooms. HR 1891 would eliminate 43 unnecessary programs, in an effort to streamline federal education funding and protecting taxpayer dollars from being wasted on ineffective programs and initiatives.

In his floor statement, Representative Hunter said, "It's time to trim the fat. Today I will introduce legislation that will eliminate - not consolidate, not defund, but eliminate - 43 wasteful K-12 education programs. At a time when approximately one-third of American fourth graders can't read, we must concentrate on education initiatives that have a track record of putting the needs of students first."

Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) expressed strong support for the legislation. "Federal education spending has more than quadrupled since 1980, but student achievement levels remain stagnant," Chairman Kline said. "Clearly, the problem isn't how much money we spend on education, but how we're spending it - and right now, far too many taxpayer dollars are dedicated to ineffective, redundant K-12 programs. Representative Hunter's legislation will reduce the federal role in education and help set the stage for increased flexibility on the state and local level."

Click here to watch Congressman Hunter's full floor statement.

Chairman Kline Pens Opinion Editorial in the Indianapolis Star

On the heels of Congressman Hunter's introduction of the Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act (HR 1891), Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee John Kline (R-MN) penned an opinion editorial on the subject of education funding in his home district paper, The Indianapolis Star.

With the country struggling to make any notable academic gains despite record setting spending, many reformers are calling for the elimination of certain programs within the Department of Education. Congressman Kline echoed that sentiment in his writing, advocating for streamlining a complicated bureaucracy.

"Too often, federal education dollars come bundled with myriad requirements, rules and restrictions that can tie the hands of educators and undermine schools' ability to meet the unique needs of students," he indicated.  "That's why we are developing a proposal that will give states and local school districts the freedom to target taxpayer resources where they're needed most. If a school determines greater resources are better spent on reading or new technologies, it should be free to adjust its budget to reflect the reality of its classrooms."

Congressman Kline and other congressional Republicans swept into power via the 2010 election based on their commitments to cut wasteful federal spending. It seems that in their quest to streamline the Department of Education they have found that flexibility may prove to be the key to school reform and innovation in public schools.

Click here to read the full op-ed.

Congressional Committee Finds Federal Expansion Into School Meals Raises Cost

The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing last week about the recent expansion of federal child nutrition programs. The hearing, "Examining the Costs of Federal Overreach into School Meals," featured testimony from school leaders and child nutrition experts who described the negative consequences stemming from the 2010 law.

During his opening remarks, Chairman Hunter stated, "Despite concerns raised by school administrators, taxpayers, a bipartisan coalition of state governors, and leaders of the nation's school boards, the previous Democrat Majority pursued a massive and costly expansion of the federal government's role in child nutrition."

The witnesses testified on various issues associated with the law including higher costs, wasted food, and the end result of fewer kids being served.  Karen Castaneda, director of food service for the Pennridge School District in Pennsylvania, argued that her schools were facing huge funding hurdles. "The impact of the proposed rule will at a minimum be $78,774 for my department which in terms of education budgets is equal to a teacher's salary in the surrounding area... The proposed rule is essentially an unfunded mandate, which will harm my program."

Relating to food going to waste, Sally Spero, a food planning supervisor from San Diego, argued that the requirements lead to unnecessary waste. "Nothing is achieved when money is spent on food that children won't even be able to consume and nothing is more disheartening to a school food service professional than to see perfectly good and perfectly untouched food thrown into the trash."

While all witnesses acknowledged that the overall plan of the law was to see that children were getting healthy nutritious meals, the impact of the law will ultimately see the reverse affect. "While in an ideal world, many of the recommendations contained in the proposed rule are very desirable, the reality is that some of them may undermine student access and participation, in part by increasing costs at all points along the supply chain to a point where the program is no longer sustainable," said Barry Sackin, a food service consultant.

Click here
for a webcast of the hearing.

AAE Signs on in Opposition to National Curriculum

Last week, AAE joined a coalition of other influential groups and individuals from across the political and education spectrum in opposition to a nationalized curriculum. In conjunction with opposing a national curriculum, AAE also opposes the ongoing effort by the U.S. Department of Education to have two federally-funded testing consortia develop national curriculum guidelines and tests.

Such an approach threatens to close the door on educational innovation, freezing in place an unacceptable status quo and hindering efforts to develop academically rigorous curricula, assessments, and standards that meet the challenges of a new global economy. AAE and this coalition are deeply committed to improving this country's schools and as such, cannot support this effort to undermine local and state control of public school curriculum in favor of an inside-the-Beltway bureaucracy.

Furthermore, transferring this kind of power to the federal government will only further subject our students to political whims. We should not let our children's education be swayed by the inevitable political pressure that undoubtedly all presidential administrations will experience. Centralized control in the U.S. Department of Education would upset the system of checks and balances between different levels of government, creating greater opportunities for special interests to use their national political leverage to distort critical education policy.

AAE's positions on national standards reflect those of our members. Only 31% of our surveyed membership believes that the federal government should mandate curriculum standards, while 64% supported the states making the final determination about the standards. Teachers in the field recognize that students in addition to being held to a high academic standard, ought to be given the opportunity to learn from state-based curriculums designed with the goals of their state in mind.

It is our hope that in signing on in opposition to a nationalized curriculum the voices of our members will be heard. American children deserve a robust curriculum that prepares them for a demanding world that is free from centralized special interests.

Click here
to read AAE Executive Director Gary Beckner's full statement on a nationalized curriculum.

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