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News-in-Brief – August 2010

Department of Education Awards “i3” Grants

On August 4, the U.S. Department of Education announced the highest rated applicants for grants under the Investing in Innovation Fund (“i3”). Under i3, grants are awarded to applicants with a demonstrated record of improving student achievement to support expansion of and investment in innovative practices that close achievement gaps, decrease dropout rates, increase graduation rates, or increase college enrollment and completion rates. Among a pool of 1,698 applicants, 49 were selected as the “highest rated,” including several education foundations and non-profits, universities, and local school districts.

In order to become an official grantee, each applicant has until September 8, 2010, to provide evidence it has secured the required 20 percent funding match from the private sector. In the event one of the named applicants does not secure matching funds, the next highest applicant may then be eligible for a grant. Once the matching requirement is met, the Department will announce the final amount awarded to each grantee.

Three types of grants may be awarded: scale-up, validation, and development grants. Scale-up grants provide funds to scale up practices, strategies, or programs backed by strong evidence (defined in the grant application) that these practices and strategies will significantly improve student achievement or meet the other purposes of the grant. Scale-up grant recipients will receive larger levels of funding than the other grantees. Validation grants will support practices and strategies that show promise but for which there is only moderate evidence, and development grants support new, relatively untested programs that appear to have high-potential but need further systematic study.

This program, funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), is available to local school districts (LEA), consortia of LEAs, and non-profit organizations partnering with school districts. The president has requested additional funding under the regular appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2011, after the ARRA funds expire. However, unless Congress provides funds to continue the program, this may be the one and only round of grants awarded.

A complete list of applicants, information about their proposals, and other information on the program is available here.

LDA Continues Work on Eliminating Toxic Chemicals

Led by Maureen Swanson, Director of LDA’s Healthy Children Project, the Learning Disabilities Association of America is putting its considerable advocacy efforts behind the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010 ( H.R. 5820). The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rush (D-IL), was introduced in July, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on July 29. The unusually fast move to a hearing indicates the importance placed on passing this bill by committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and his colleagues.
A recent study from University of Texas researchers, as well as other U.S. studies, documents the use of toxic flame retardant chemicals in the manufacture of electronics carpet, upholstery, building materials, and children’s pajamas. The Texas study shows American babies are exposed to far higher amounts of fire retardants than babies in Europe, where some of these chemicals have already been banned. In the United States, only California and Maine have acted to restrict the use of these chemicals.

Polybrominated diphenyl esters, or PBDEs, have been found to migrate from the manufactured products into household dust, into the food chain, and into newborns’ cord blood and breast milk. Scientists have discovered that neurotoxic chemicals such as PBDEs can impair attention, learning, memory, and behavior in laboratory animals at surprisingly low levels. It appears these chemicals can be passed through breast milk, but also to unborn fetuses where neurotoxins have the most significant impact.

Children are particularly vulnerable to harm from toxic chemical exposures. From conception through early childhood, their brains and bodies are rapidly developing. During this period, miniscule amounts of toxic chemicals can cause irreparable harm to the fetal or infant brain – at levels much lower than those affecting an adult. Recent studies also show that exposure to certain chemicals in utero can wreak havoc with the body’s hormonal system and cellular development, potentially setting the stage for the later onset of cancer or reproductive problems.

The Toxic Chemicals Safety Act would require chemical companies to demonstrate that chemicals are safe before they arrive in the marketplace, a major departure from current practice. In addition, the legislation would also require chemical manufacturers to provide basic health and safety information for all chemicals as a condition of remaining on or entering the market. This bill would update the Toxic Substances Control Act, under which the Environmental Protection Agency has been able to require testing on only around 200 of the 80,000 chemicals produced and used in the United States. Of those 200, only five chemicals have been regulated under the current law.

LDA’s Research Committee and the Healthy Children Project will lead the organization’s advocacy efforts to ensure children are protected from the harmful effects of neurotoxic chemicals. As new information is available, it will be reported in News in Brief and on the LDA website.

Continuing Resolution Likely Scenario as New Year Approaches

Federal Fiscal Year 2010 will end on September 30, and logically FY 2011 begins on October 1! However, once again – and what now seems like a “tradition” – Congress will not complete its work on the 12 appropriations bills in time to meet this deadline. When Congress misses this deadline, it must pass a continuing resolution (CR), a bill allowing the government to continue functioning until a new budget is in place. Thus far, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education has passed a bill, and the Senate full Appropriations Committee has finished the Labor-H bill.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee has released only a few numbers from its bill, whereas the Senate committee has released the full set of numbers. The House Subcommittee bill includes an aggregate increase of $412 million for IDEA, but the details are not yet available. The Senate Committee bill has an overall increase of $440 million, $420 for Part B and $20 million for Part C. In addition, the Senate bill includes an additional $6.55 million for Part D, with those increases coming in Personnel Development, Parent Information and Training Centers, and Technology and Media.

It is unclear whether Congress will return for a lame duck session after the election, which would be the next opportunity to work on appropriations. The most likely scenario will be a continuing resolution into January after the new Congress is seated. As the process unfolds, LDA will keep you posted on how programs will fare for the next fiscal year.

Workforce Investment Act Stuck in Legislative Queue

Rumblings have been heard in Washington that the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) may finally be getting some traction. The law, passed in 1998, has been awaiting reauthorization since 2003. Last fall the U.S. Department of Education Office of Vocational and Adult Education hosted a series of “community conversations” among stakeholders, and a number of organizations have released recommendations for the reauthorization.

WIA replaced the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) in an effort to streamline and strengthen the country’s job-training system. The law, which took full effect on July 1, 2000, created a locally integrated “One-Stop” delivery system of multiple employment services, job training and education programs, designed to be universally accessible to job seekers and meet local industry demands in communities across the county. WIA mandated the participation of partner agencies that provide such services.

One of the major players among the stakeholders with recommendations for the WIA reauthorization is the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE). LDA supports strong career and technical education programs as one important path to high school graduation and employment for students with learning disabilities and partners closely with ACTE.

ACTE’s recommendations are grouped under three major topics: increasing access to high quality training, strengthening connections between education and workforce development systems, and addressing administrative and infrastructure challenges. Among its recommendations, ACTE proposes to strengthen connections between the education and workforce systems by requiring the state director of CTE as a mandatory member of the state workforce investment board. At the local level, community and technical colleges, area CTE centers where they exist, and local school districts should also be represented, with a priority on those dealing with CTE programs, and should be able to serve in leadership roles.

Click here to to read the in-depth recommendations.

Congress Sends Help to States with Education Jobs Bill

After much political maneuvering, on August 10 the House sent the final education jobs bill to the president. Speaker of the House Pelosi used the highly unusual tactic of calling the House back from August recess to complete a $10 billion package designed to help school districts stave off an estimated 140,000 imminent education-related layoffs. Funds, which must be sent to school districts within 45 days of enactment, will save jobs of teachers, principals, specialized instructional support personnel, and other education-related staff.

Funds are to be used only for the purpose of preserving elementary and secondary education jobs. Funds may not be used for purposes such as equipment, utilities, renovation, or transportation. In addition, the bill prohibits states from using any of these funds to add to “Rainy-Day Funds” or to pay off state debt.

In addition to providing job relief, this bill also extends temporary increases in FMAP, the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP), passed under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). FMAP is used in determining the amount of Federal matching funds for State expenditures for assistance payments for certain social services, and State medical and medical insurance expenditures. The increase enacted under ARRA has helped stabilize states’ economies during the recession by providing financial assistance with growing Medicaid enrollment at a time when state revenues are declining.