News-in-Brief – May 2013

ESEA to Move on Partisan Track

Once again it appears the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently known as No Child Left Behind) may be delayed, despite efforts at least in the Senate to reach agreement.  Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) began meeting in January to find common ground on a proposal that would move the long-overdue ESEA reauthorization forward.  Unfortunately, they have reached an impasse, and Senator Harkin plans to introduce a Democratic bill in June.

The ESEA was on schedule to be reauthorized in 2007.  House efforts have been partisan since the beginning, while the Senate committee attempted to move ahead with bipartisan support on at least some areas of agreement.  It appears once again House Chairman John Kline (R-MN) will reintroduce bills passed previously by the Republican House without support from the Democratic minority.

Senators Harkin and Alexander have reached an impasse over several critical provisions of the law.  The major disagreement is on performance targets.  Senator Harkin supports States setting student achievement goals, now a requirement for States that have received waivers of certain provisions of the ESEA. This is a change in position for Harkin.  However, he reasons that since States have already retooled their systems to accommodate this waiver requirement, it makes sense to develop a reauthorization plan that does not require States to start all over again.

Senator Alexander says requiring States to set achievement goals assumes too great a role for the federal government in public education. Alexander supported the 2011 reauthorization bill, which did not include achievement goals, but even then this issue was controversial.

While currently it appears the next Senate ESEA bill will be a Democratic effort, the decision to suspend discussions between the two key players was amicable.  Therefore, the door is still open for bipartisan support if agreement can be reached on achievement goals and a few other contentious issues, such as teacher evaluation.

Harkin’s goal is to consider a bill in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in June.  Perhaps by then some consensus will emerge and there will be some bipartisan support.  At around the same time, House Education and Workforce Chairman Kline is expected to move ahead with his bill without the support of Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA).  The bottom line is that, without some bipartisan support for House and Senate bills, these efforts are unlikely to lead to a final ESEA reauthorization this year.


Dire Predictions Emerge For FY 2014 Funding

The appropriations, or spending, process in Washington continues to dominate the news. For the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2013, which ends on September 30, 2013, the federal government is operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR). A CR simply keeps the government operating, in lieu of passage of 12 appropriations bills that fund all the federal agencies. Now Congress – unable to pass individual spending bills for FY 2013 – is in the midst of trying to settle funding levels for FY 2014.

The House Appropriations Committee marked up two of the 12 bills this past week, Homeland Security and Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs. The Committee will be officially approving their “302(b)” allocations – the amount given to each subcommittee to spend on those agencies’ programs – on May 21.

The Subcommittee that covers the programs of interest to LDA – education, health, job training – is Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS)-Education. Its House allocation for FY 2014 is $121.797 billion. This allocation is around a 20 percent cut below the FY 2013 allocation and a 26.5 percent cut below the President’s FY 2014 request for Labor-HHS-Education programs. Funding for Pell Grants for higher education, IDEA, Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the National Institutes of Health equals more than half the total Labor-HHS-Education bill. Therefore, even if the House eliminated, for example, twenty or more education programs, funding would not be reduced to the level of this proposed cut.

The overall appropriations total proposed by the House protects Defense, which means the cut for non-defense discretionary programs (education, health, human services, environment, transportation, commerce, etc.) would be more than doubled in the aggregate. The cuts were not allocated equally among the 12 appropriations subcommittees, and Labor-HHS-Education got the worst allocation of all.

In the meantime, Senator Mikulski (D-MD), Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is moving ahead with a total funding level for the 12 Senate appropriations subcommittees of $1.058 trillion. This is in contrast to the total appropriation in the House of $966 billion. This huge disparity in the bottom line will make it extremely difficult for the House and Senate to come to agreement on appropriations bills.

If the House and Senate cannot agree on appropriations bills, they may have to pass yet another Continuing Resolution (CR) for FY 2014. This would also prove problematic. The final funding figure in the current FY 2013 CR is $989 billion; however, sequestration requires a spending cap of $966 billion. Therefore, even a CR for FY 2014 would require significant cuts in current spending to get down to the $966 billion level.

There is one final issue that figures in to the discussion. You may remember hearing a few weeks ago that the Federal Aviation Administration was successful in getting a “fix” for the sequestration cut that would have resulted in fewer air traffic controllers manning the airport towers. While on the surface, this may have seemed like a good idea, more small fixes like this will reduce the incentive for Congress to reverse the entire sequester. As stories and data are already showing, sequestration is having and continues to have a deep negative effect on many programs and services.

In the final analysis, it is likely a short-term Continuing Resolution will be required to resolve some of this chaos. What the final solution will be is less certain at this time.


Report on Graduation Rates Released

The National Center on Learning Disabilities has just issued a new report – Diplomas at Risk: A Critical Look at the Graduation Rate of Students with Learning Disabilities. The report highlights the very wide variation – from 25 to 90 percent – across States in the number of students with specific learning disabilities (SLD) graduating high school with a regular diploma. This wide range in results indicates that, while it is clear many students with SLD can achieve this goal, greater progress must be made to raise the graduation rates in all States.

The report indicates that in the 2010-11 school year, only 68 percent of students SLD received a regular diploma. In addition, although the dropout rate for these students has improved considerably in the last ten years, Louisiana, Nevada, and South Carolina record more students with SLD dropping out than graduating.

The report presents several key findings:

  • While the dropout rate has improved dramatically for students with specific learning disabilities, these students continue to be at significant risk of not graduating with a regular diploma.
  • Some schools make decisions regarding the education of students with SLD as early as elementary school that greatly reduce the possibility of those students attaining a regular high school diploma.
  • State policies that support multiple diplomas can result in fewer students with SLD reaching graduation.
  • The Four-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR) is a critical accountability tool for ensuring students with disabilities are on track to graduate with a regular diploma. (Note: ACGR = number of students graduating in four years with a regular high school diploma divided by the number of students who entered high school four years earlier, adjusted for transfers, emigres, and deaths.)
  • Eighty-eight percent of students with SLD expect to graduate with a regular high school diploma.

The report also includes several recommendations for federal and State policy action to improve the graduation rate for students with SLD. These recommendations are as follows:

  • Maintaining and improving the current requirement to use the Four-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate is critical to improving graduation rates for students with SLD, and information should be disaggregated by disability type.
  • Congress and the U.S. Department of Education should incorporate the use of the ACGR into all monitoring and compliance activities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
  • States should be required to implement evidence-based early warning systems in all high schools with significant gaps in graduation rates between all students and students with disabilities.
  • States with several diploma options and low graduation rates for students with disabilities and/or significant graduation rate gaps for students with disabilities should closely examine their graduation requirements and exit exam policies and the impact of multiple diploma options.
  • States policies should ensure policies are eliminated that put students in the early grades on an alternate route to exiting high school without a regular diploma.

To read the entire report, go to http://www.ncld.org/images/content/files/diplomas-at-risk/DiplomasatRisk.pdf.


President Expands RESPECT Initiative

Efforts to develop a national framework for transforming the teaching profession began in 2011 with two conferences – a convening on labor-management collaboration and the International Summit on the Teaching Profession – both of which have become annual events.  These meetings led to a series of conversations with practitioners across the country focused on identifying a new vision for teaching and leading.  In 2012 Secretary Duncan officially launched The RESPECT Project: A National Conversation about the Teaching Profession, and now President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposal includes $5 billion for a grant competition to “pursue bold and comprehensive reforms of all aspects of the profession.”

The seven key areas of reform in the Obama RESPECT grant competition mirror those in a recent document developed by the major national groups representing teachers, State and local superintendents, school boards, and large urban school districts.  This document outlines these organizations’ vision for the future of the teaching profession (http://www.nsba.org/Board-Leadership/Transforming-the-Teaching-Profession-NSBA-Helps-Build-Common-Vision.pdf).

The seven key areas include:

  • Culture of Shared Responsibility and Leadership:  Focusing on shared decision-making to develop school goals and strategies and structured time for teachers and leaders to work collaboratively to address learning needs.
  • Top Talent, Prepared for Success: Developing comprehensive strategies for attracting talented individuals to teaching and school leadership, and improving the quality of their preparation.
  • Effective Teachers and Principals:  Developing rigorous teacher and principal evaluation systems using multiple measures of performance, focused on assisting teachers to improve, identifying best practices, and informing personnel decisions.
  • Continuous Growth and Professional Development: Strengthening teacher and principal professional development, including using evaluation data to target training to identified needs.
  • Professional Career Continuum with Competitive Compensation:  Redesigning certification, management, and compensation systems to attract, develop, and retain talented teachers and principals, especially in high-need schools.
  • Creating Conditions for Success:  Ensuring school climate and culture, support services, time and resources, and family engagement are focused on continuous student improvement.
  • Engaged Communities:  Forming partnerships with local communities, including partnering with businesses and establishing community schools.

The president’s proposal also includes a set-aside from RESPECT funds to support a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Master Teacher Corps. These teachers would commit to leading communities of practice, serve as mentors, and receive annual stipends of up to $20,000 above their regular salaries.  The STEM Master Teacher Corps would be supported by the Department of Education and established in collabo­ration with nonprofit organizations and public-private partnerships between STEM-related businesses and school districts.

Action from Congress will be necessary to fund the RESPECT initiative, and Congress is still in the early stages of determining funding for Fiscal Year 2014.  For more information on the President’s proposal, http://www2.ed.gov/documents/respect/blueprint-for-respect.pdf.


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