News-in-Brief – August 2011

Report Highlights Spending on Children

Children’s Budget 2011 was released recently by First Focus, a bipartisan organization that concentrates on making children and families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions. The report reveals that spending on children in the 2011 federal budget dropped by nearly 10 percent from 2010, falling from a five-year high of 9.2 percent to 8.4 percent. “Children” are defined for purposes of the report as individuals age 18 and under. The Budget looks at overall federal spending and specific spending for child welfare, early childhood, education, health, housing, income support, nutrition, and safety.

The report explains that had it not been for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) “stimulus money,” spending on children’s programs in 2010 and 2011 would have been significantly lower. In fact, the share of spending on children’s programs in 2011 would have declined to levels below 2007 without the ARRA funding. The programs that benefited from these additional resources are facing a funding cliff as the ARRA funding ends in the next few months and deep cuts to many of these programs are proposed. With the serious economic situation, such cuts and safety net programs will leave many children and families extremely vulnerable.

As First Focus president Bruce Lesley notes, “Our children are our future and we simply cannot afford to fail them. It truly doesn’t get any more basic than that.”

Children’s Budget 2011 can be downloaded and hard copies requested at http://www.firstfocus.net/library/reports/childrens-budget-2011.

Early Childhood Takes Center Stage

In a strong bipartisan effort nearly unheard of in Washington these days, Representative Mazie Hirono (D-HI) joined with Representatives Walter Jones (R-NC), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Don Young (R-AK) to introduce the Continuum of Learning Act of 2011 (H.R. 2794). Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) will be introducing a Senate companion bill shortly. H.R. 2794, which amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), acknowledges the longstanding ability of school districts to use Title I funds for very young children and encourages policy changes necessary to create an effective birth through age eight continuum of development and learning.

Among a number of provisions, the Hirono bill incorporates the language of a second freestanding early childhood bill recently introduced by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Kay Hagan (D-NC). Under the Ready Schools Act of 2011 (S. 1439), school districts would assist elementary schools in a “ready schools” needs review to ensure schools have the appropriate resources in place for successful transition from preschool and to support children’s success, particularly in the early grades. Schools would examine conditions such as the use of developmentally appropriate curricula and teaching practices, support for teachers to enhance their knowledge of child development and learning, strong collaborations with families and community early childhood education providers, and professional development for school principals.

Other highlights of the Hirono bill include:

Having states review and revise their K–3 standards as needed to ensure they cover all areas of development and learning, including social and emotional development, and approaches to learning as recommended by the National Research Council;
Promoting joint professional development between schools and community-based early learning programs and allowing ESEA-Title II funds to be used for scholarships tied to compensation rewards for teachers who earn an Associate or Baccalaureate degree in early childhood;
Providing professional development for elementary school principals in child development and learning, developmentally appropriate teaching practices, and collaboration with community early childhood settings;
Requiring states to create teaching certificates reflecting the specialized knowledge and skills of teaching young children;
Preventing inappropriate high-stakes use of child assessments for grades 2 and below; and,
Strengthening collaborations between community-based early childhood programs and schools for more effective and supportive transitions for young children.

ESEA Waiver Conversation Continues

LDA previously reported (“Waiver Announcement Brings Strong Response,” News in Brief July 2011) the conversation around possible waivers of statutory and regulatory provisions under No Child Left Behind. At that time, the decision had not been made whether to proceed with such waivers. Now the U.S. Department of Education has confirmed its intention to release specific details of a waiver plan in early September when it begins consideration of State waiver applications.

States have been clamoring for waivers of certain requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Congress has yet to pass changes to the ESEA, which was due for reauthorization several years ago. Of greatest concern is the provision that all students are proficient in math and reading by 2014. If schools do not meet that goal, serious sanctions may occur, including a possible loss of federal funding.

Several general waiver criteria have already been released. Waivers will be granted to States that adopt college and career-ready standards, use “flexible and targeted” accountability systems for evaluating personnel based on student growth, and make good use of data.

All States may apply for a waiver. Applications will be peer-reviewed, and the final decision lies with the Secretary of Education. Several States have already asked for waivers, which the Secretary, under current law, has broad authority to grant. Other States have just simply said they will not comply with certain parts of the law, with or without a waiver.

LDA will keep readers apprised of the specific waiver criteria and, as available, which States receive those waivers.

LDA Supports Funding for Career Technical Education

LDA has joined with a wide array of businesses, trade associations, education associations, and family and consumer groups to support continued funding for career technical education (CTE). Funding for CTE, known formerly as vocational education, has been a target for some members of Congress in recent years. Specifically in the current federal fiscal year (FY 2011; school year 2011-12), Congress eliminated the $102.9 million Tech Prep State Grants program.

The Tech Prep program provides grants to local school districts and postsecondary education institutions to develop and operate programs in the last two years of high school and at least two years of post-high school education. Students receive an associate degree or two-year certificate at the end of the program. Programs include core courses in math, science, communication, and technology through a specifically developed Tech Prep curriculum. High school and postsecondary teachers train jointly to ensure effective implementation of the program, and counselors are also trained to recruit students and guide them to program completion and employment. Special populations are given equal access to these programs.

LDA consistently advocates to maintain a broad range of educational, training, and post-school options for all students, including students with specific learning disabilities. The organization views elimination of Tech Prep funding as a serious misstep by Congress and will work with other groups to reverse this trend.

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