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ESEA/NCLB Update #202

ED proposes Charter Schools Program revisions

The Department of Education (ED) proposed modifications to its Charter Schools Program (CSP) rules. CSP is the federal program through which ED awards grants to states to provide startup funding to expand their charter school sectors. ED expects to award more than $100 million in 2015. The proposal sets out priorities, requirements, definitions, and selection criteria, one or more of which ED may use in future grant competitions. Comments are due January 5, 2015.

ED identified three goals it aims to achieve with this regulatory action: (1) greater accountability for state education agencies’ (SEAs) use of CSP funds; (2) stronger accountability and oversight for charter authorizers; and (3) stronger focus on supporting and improving academic outcomes for educationally disadvantaged students. NEA has long argued that these are three areas in need of greater policy attention, as evidenced most recently by studies documenting New York state’s failure to implement a system that adequately monitors charters for fraud, waste, and mismanagement and poor student outcomes in Ohio’s charter sector.

Louisiana granted waiver extension

Louisiana received an NCLB waiver extension for this school year, the last for the approved waiver states needing extensions. Many states must now turn toward next year’s waiver renewal process.

ED releases promised guidance on waiver renewal

ED this week issued detailed FAQ’s on waiver renewal, supplementing its waiver renewal guidelines and application. In an accompanying letter to chief state school officers, ED highlighted several new items, including the possibility that some states could "pause" schools in their current accountability rating for the 2015-2016 school year in light of new college- and career-ready assessments.

FY 2015 education appropriations favor formula over competitive grants

With even less money available than in 2014 due to spending caps and other technical factors, education funding in fiscal year 2015 declined by $166 million (-0.25 percent) when compared to last year. The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 approved by Congress replaces the continuing resolution that was in effect through December 11 2014, and funds education programs through the end of the fiscal year—September 30, 2015. This was the best available outcome among bleak alternatives, such as a government shutdown or a series of short-term continuing resolutions. But with no new money available, any increases for education programs would have to come from cuts to other education programs or at the expense of labor, health, and human services programs that share the same appropriations bill as education. Where education funding was increased above the 2014 level, it was directed to state formula-allocated grant programs, a departure from prior years when limited dollars were directed to competitive grants instead. Here are some highlights of education funding in FY 2015 and comparisons to FY 2014 funding levels:

PreK-12, -$99 million (-0.27 percent)

  • Increases: ESEA Title I, Part A, +$25 million (+0.17 percent); Striving Readers, +$2 million (+1.27 percent); Mathematics and Science Partnerships, +$3 million (+2.0 percent); 21st Century Community Learning Centers, +$2.3 million (+0.2 percent); Charter Schools Grants, +$5 million (+2.0 percent); English Language Acquisition State Grants (ESEA Title III), +$14 million (+1.94 percent); and, Special Education Grants to States (IDEA, Part B-611), +$25 million (+0.22 percent).
  • No change: School Improvement State Grants (SIG); Preschool Development Grants; Impact Aid; ESEA Title II, Part A; Rural Education; Elementary and Secondary School Counseling; Promise Neighborhoods; and, Career and Technical Education State Grants.
  • Cuts: Investing in Innovation, -$21.6 million (-15.3 percent); and, Teacher Incentive Fund, -$58.8 million (-20.4 percent).
    No Funding: High School Graduation Initiative, and Race to the Top.

Adult Education, +$5 million (+0.87 percent)
Federal Student Aid, -$288 million (-1.18 percent)
Higher Education, -$1 million (-0.03 percent)
Vocational Rehabilitation Services and Disability Research, -$1 million (-0.2 percent)
Institute of Education Sciences, -$3 million (-0.52 percent)
Student Aid Administration, +$231 million (+19.8 percent)
Other Departmental Management, -$10 million (-1.8 percent)

Funding bill impacts SIG, i3

In an explanatory statement accompanying the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, Congress restates the need for flexibility in implementing school improvement strategies under the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program. In last year’s appropriations bill, Congress permitted states to develop their own strategy (with the Secretary of Education’s approval) beyond the four turnaround models; but the draft regulations recently issued by ED "fall short of congressional intent" because they require states to hew to the Department’s turnaround principles and impose additional requirements. Congress is making clear that any final requirementsmust "strictly adhere to bill language which stipulates that LEAs may implement an alternative State-determined school improvement strategy that has been established by a State educational agency (SEA) with the approval of the Secretary."

Congress also added language to ensure that the next round of projects funded under Investing in Innovation (i3) would focus on comprehensive high school reform strategies targeted to high-poverty schools.

Administration issues guidance package on educating confined youth

ED and the Department of Justice released a guidance package to help improve the education of incarcerated youth across the country. Developed in response to recommendations from President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, the package provides states and localities with both guidance and resources on enhancing educational services in correctional facilities, including recruiting and retaining experienced educators, serving students with disabilities, and ensuring confined youths’ access to the Federal Pell Grant Program. According to an administration statement, about 60,000 young people are currently living in confinement, and "access to a high-quality education during their confinement is a vitally important and cost-effective strategy for ensuring they become productive members of their communities."

ED declines to change its supplemental grant priorities

ED issued a list of its final supplemental grant priorities for grant competitions, leaving them essentially unchanged from a list proposed in June. The 15 priorities, ranging from promoting personalized learning to improving early learning, will serve as a menu of priorities that ED can choose from and apply to grant programs. According to ED, over 1,000 commentors had suggested that the department include additional priorities on specific content areas, such as history and civic learning, and several commentors had urged new general topics, such as secondary and postsecondary transitions. ED said that many of these proposed content areas and topics could be addressed within its 15 priorities.

White House announces early learning grants

Last week, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell hosted the White House Summit on Early Education, which brought together federal, state, and local policymakers, school superintendents, business and community leaders, and advocates to highlight efforts across the country to expand access to high-quality early learning programs for our youngest learners. At the summit, President Obama announced that 18 states have been awarded grants, totaling more than $226 million, under thePreschool Development Grantsprogram. Through these grants, more than 33,000 additional children will be served in high-quality preschool programs that meet high-quality standards.

The administration also released a playbook which offers strategies for local leaders to develop and expand early education in their communities and a joint policy statement on expulsion and suspension practices in early learning settings, complete with a report and a set of recommendations that, if implemented, should reduce the number of preschool-aged children who are suspended and/or expelled from preschool programs.

Take Action: Share your story on high-stakes testing

NEA is collecting stories about student test misuse for its ongoing campaign against over-testing. To share your story, go to http://educationvotes.nea.org/teststories/.

Published December 19, 2014

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