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New (Federal) Senate Bill On restraint and seclusion is of strong concern
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On Wednesday, February 12, 2014, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced legislation that would reduce the authority of states and local school districts to decide the appropriate use of restraint and seclusion in public schools.  The bill, known as the Keeping All Students Safe Act, follows similar language introduced several years ago.  As drafted, the bill fails to recognize the need for local school personnel to make decisions based on their onsite, real-time assessment of the situation. 

Members of the WASB Executive Committee recently urged members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation to recognize the efforts of states such as Wisconsin and others that have enacted a statutory framework to prevent the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint techniques when considering any proposed federal legislation in this area. 

Wisconsin’s law allows the use of seclusion and restraint techniques only under certain specified circumstances, requires that physical restraint, where warranted, be used only by those trained to do so, and requires that parents be notified when such techniques are used on their children and also requires that boards receive regular reports on how often such techniques are used in each school.

View WASB memo

Posted Feb. 20, 2014

Congress Approves Bill to End Shutdown and Raise Debt Ceiling
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Sixteen days after the federal government shutdown began and one day before the U.S. would have exhausted its ability to borrow money, Congress approved a bill to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling until Feb. 7, 2014.  President Obama signed the legislation immediately, which meant that most federal workers reported to work on Thursday, October 17. A brief summary of the deal reached by Congress and enacted:

  • Government is funded through January 15 at levels reflecting the sequestration levels;
  • Debt ceiling is suspended until February 7 (at that point the debt limit is whatever the actual level of debt is on that day);
  • A budget conference has been established to come up with long-term spending plans by December 13. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) will be the conference committee leaders;
  • Requires income verification for recipients of subsidies under the Affordable Care Act’s newly-established exchanges;
  • Provides for back pay for furloughed federal government workers.

Posted Oct. 18, 2013

Funding for Education Pending Amid Possibility of a
Federal Government Shutdown
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On Friday, September 27, the United States Senate passed an amended version of H.J. Res. 59, the House-passed continuing resolution that would fund government operations through December 15. The Senate voted 54 to 44 on the amended bill, largely along party lines, which removed the House provision to stop funding for the Affordable Care Act.

Then early Sunday, September 29, the House took the Senate-passed funding bill and attached an amendment that would delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act for one year by a vote of 231 to 192. As of this afternoon, September 30, 2013, the Senate rejected the second House-passed bill by a party-line vote of 54 to 46.

If the House and Senate do not reach an agreement and pass a stop-gap funding bill by tomorrow, October 1, there is the possibility of a government shutdown. H.J. Res. 59 would impose more budget cuts to education and other programs, and would be in effect until December 15.

Posted Sept. 30, 2013

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s of Sept. 13, 2013, the House and Senate had not passed an Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations bill for education. Therefore, likelihood of a Continuing Resolution (CR) for the beginning of the federal fiscal year, which starts October 1, is apparent.

A vote on a stopgap appropriations bill, H.J. Res. 59, was delayed this week in the House because of the lack of the 218 votes needed for passage.

The proposed CR, which is currently drafted to fund education and other programs through December 15, would continue to impose budget cuts by setting aggregate funding and individual program funding at the Fiscal Year 2013 sequester levels. For Fiscal Year 2013, K-12 and Head Start programs have been affected by more than $2.8 billion in budget cuts from the sequester.

Posted Sept. 13, 2013

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Earlier action in the two houses of Congress is described below:

U.S. Senate: In early July, 2013, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee reported its recommendations for a Fiscal Year 2014 funding bill that would reverse the budget cuts to education programs from sequestration and would increase funding for Title I grants and special education.

Specifically, the measure would appropriate a $1.6 billion increase for Head Start that consists of $1.4 billion to “expand Early Head Start, including the creation of new Early Head Start Child Care Partnerships, to serve children and families from before birth through age 3.”

During the Committee meeting, Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced an amendment that would add an additional $43 million to special education grants, which was adopted. Compared to FY2012 before the sequester was implemented, the bill would provide a $168 million increase for special education. Please see this NSBA chart that details the funding status for select education programs.

Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said that she will do her best to get the bill on the Senate floor for debate. She noted the last time a Senate Labor-HHS-Education bill was on the floor was 2007.

U.S. House of Representatives: In the House, the likelihood of a Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations bill for Labor, Health & Human Services, Education being considered soon is unclear.

During the week of May 20, 2013, the House Appropriations Committee adopted an overall allocation for the Labor, HHS, and Education Subcommittee (the subcommittee that focuses on education funding) that could reduce funding for education by more than 18 percent.

In other words, the allocation adopted by the committee is more than 18 percent lower than current funding levels under the sequester. If these cuts were to be applied in an across-the-board manner, it would result in a more than a $4.6 billion reduction to Title I and special education (IDEA) alone. This table, prepared by the National School Boards Association (NSBA), illustrates the extent of the estimated cut that would be applied to each program.

On July 19, 2013, the House approved its version of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) a/k/a No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).  The House version H.R. 5, Student Success Act, would effectively lock in the across-the-board cuts to federal spending (including education) put in place under "sequestration."

Posted July 24, 2013

Federal School Nutrition Standards—
USDA Regulations on All Foods Sold in School
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released an Interim Final Rule on Nutrition Standards for All Foods Sold in School in late June. The standards resemble those for school lunches, and apply to so-called competitive foods - those items sold outside the school meal program at a la carte lines, school stores, snack bars, and vending machines.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) has called for an interim final rule to give school districts more time to assess the impact of the new standards and reporting requirements on their operations and revenue.

House Education Chairman John Kline (R-MN) urged the U. S. Department of Agriculture to follow NSBA's recommendation on pending national standards for all foods sold in schools outside the national school lunch and breakfast programs. In a May 30, 2013 letter to Secretary Tom Vilsack, Chairman Kline urged the Department to heed the request from NSBA for an interim final rule rather than a final rule to "more easily allow for adjustments as unknown and projected problems arise during implementation." NSBA further urged the Department to conduct a comprehensive study on the impact on school district revenue and operations and to postpone implementation of competitive food standards until the study is complete.

In addition to meeting new nutrition standards, school districts must comply with requirements for maintaining records and documenting compliance for food sold in areas that are outside the control of the school food service operation and for ensuring that any organization designated as responsible for food service does the same. States have the authority to waive the standards for infrequent fundraisers, the definition of which is also left to states.

The Department is accepting comments on the Interim Final Rule until October 28, 2013 and districts must comply by July 1, 2014. NSBA’s Issue Brief on Child Nutrition provides more background on the child nutrition reauthorization.

Posted July 16, 2013

Federal Sequestration Cuts Education Funding
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Federally funded education programs were cut by an estimated 5 percent on January 2, 2013, as Congress took no action to cancel cuts scheduled to take place through a process called sequestration.

Sequestration arose as a result of negotiations in August 2011 between Congress and the Administration to raise the national debt ceiling.  Those negotiations resulted in the enactmeng of the Budget Control Act of 2011. That law created a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (a/k/a the Supercommittee) tasked with developing a plan to produce a savings in federal expenditures of $1.2 trillion. After examining revenues and expenditures and the reports of various commissions on deficit reduction, the Supercommittee failed to reach an agreement on how to enact the $1.2 trillion in budget cuts.

That failure triggered language in the Budget Control Act providing that if congressional passage of legislation authored by the Supercommittee did not occur, a series of across-the-board budget cuts (a/k/a sequestration) to both defense programs and non-defense programs, including education, will occur instead.

Sequestration cuts begin this year ( 2013) with across-the-board cuts to Fiscal Year 2013 funding. 

In Fiscal Year 2013 alone, Title I grants for disadvantaged students will be cut by an estimated $1.1 billion. Similarly, special education grants under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) will be cut by more than $895 million (resulting in an estimated loss to Wisconsin schools.) These two federal programs mandate local districts to provide services but do not fully fund those mandated services. The reductions in these federal funds will likely cause school districts to have to make budget cuts in other areas.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) estimates that Title I grants to Wisconsin schools would be reduced by nearly $18.6 million while special education (IDEA) grants to Wisconsin schools would be reduced by over $16.6 million.

Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) Program

As part of a congressional budget deal back in April (2011) that cut nearly $1 billion in funding from the U.S. Department of Education through September (2011), U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan received $700 million to design a new competitive grant program aimed in part at improving early-childhood care and education for low-income and disadvantaged infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. The funding is subject to some of the same conditions as the original Race to the Top competition, leading some to label the new program "Race to the Top 2.0."

Congress gave relatively little guidance about how to spend the money, but did include requirements that the grants focus on early learning, eliminated the requirement that half the grant money go to school districts, and a new requirement that early-childhood grants be awarded in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Congress also provided that the money must be awarded by Dec. 31.

The U.S. Department of Education recently released draft priorities and criteria for what it is calling the "Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) program." The RTT-ELC program will allocate $500 million in grants. (The remaining $200 million slice will be awarded to runners-up from last year's Race to the Top competition, in which 11 states and the District of Columbia split $4 billion.)

The new Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge will be open to all states, with grants ranging from $50 million to $100 million, depending on a state's population. That could make it especially attractive for small states, which were eligible for maximum grants of $75 million in the first edition of the Race to the Top. For big states, $100 million grants won't go as far; the biggest states in the original competition won $700 million each.

Competition Guidelines

  • The $500 million federal competition to improve early learning is open to all states, with individual awards ranging from $50 million to $100 million.
  • To win, states will have to craft early-learning and development standards and assessments for children, including kindergarten-readiness tests.
  • States will need to incorporate early-learning data into their longitudinal-data systems and create rating systems for early-education programs.
  • The U.S. Department of Education has said it may place special emphasis on proposals that will improve early learning in rural communities�for example, bypassing a higher-scoring urban state in favor of a lower-scoring rural one.
  • Applications will be available in late summer, and awards will be made by the end of the year. States will have until Dec. 31, 2015, to spend their grant money.

    Source: U.S. Department of Education
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the RTT-ELC grant competition will focus on improving early learning and development programs for young children by supporting States' efforts to: (1) increase the number and percentage of low-income and disadvantaged children in each age group of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who are enrolled in high-quality early learning programs; (2) design and implement an integrated system of high-quality early learning programs and services; and (3) ensure that any use of assessments conforms with the recommendations of the National Research Council's reports on early childhood.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) 2011 Delegate Assembly adopted a national policy on this issue, that urges the federal government to grant flexibility to school districts to establish preschool programs for all three and four year olds through a separate funding stream, that develops, coordinates, and enhances the quality and availability of preschool programs.

NSBA also supports pre-kindergarten-16 collaboration among the various sectors of education and with business, industry, and government to enhance teaching and learning opportunities so that all students are prepared to live in and contribute to a vibrant society.

Read the NSBA's comments on the draft criteria for the RTT-ELC grants.

Posted July 16, 2011

Elementary and Secondary Education Act (NCLB) Update

While Congressional Democrats and Republicans mostly agree that the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the main federal law governing education, desperately needs to be overhauled, they are divided on how to do it. Democrats, who control the U.S. Senate, would prefer to pass a comprehensive reauthorization bill, but remain divided on issues of teacher accountability, such as tenure, merit pay and linking evaluations with test scores. Republicans, who control the U.S. House of Representatives, seek to overhaul NCLB by passing five distinct bills, in part because the wave of "Tea Party" congressmen voted into office in November 2010 largely oppose sweeping federal laws.

Under NCLB�as the most recent version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or ESEA is known�schools are largely measured by students' performance on standardized tests, and by the performance of certain subgroups of disadvantaged students. Not only does NCLB set standards, it gives the federal government power to intervene in schools that rank poorly. As the clock ticks, more and more schools are being labeled as failing under the law. Already, NCLB's strictures have caused several states (see story below) to defy its mandates.

If Congress does not overhaul NCLB by the fall, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his aides have signaled that they may grant a waiver for some NCLB requirements�including a requirement that all children be proficient in English and math by 2014, a goal widely seen as unrealistic�in exchange for Duncan-favored reforms.A number of state education chiefs have said they envision state accountability systems that placed more weight on student "growth"�that is, individual performance on state tests from year to year�and possibly other factors, like high school graduation rates and participation in Advanced Placement courses, as ways to measure student achievement.

The administration's suggestion of waivers has already drawn opposition from Congressional leaders, including Representative John Kline (R-Minnesota), House education committee chair. They have challenged Mr. Duncan's legal authority to demand certain reforms in exchange for waivers, saying that it would undermine Congress's efforts to enact more lasting changes. Read coverage of the political fallout the increasing number of schools failing to meet AYP is causing.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) and the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) have joined forces to launch a nationwide petition drive calling on U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to use his administrative authority to set-aside costly and non-productive regulations under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) before schools open next fall. They suggest it is highly unlikely Congress will reauthorize ESEA�which contains the NCLB requirements�by Labor Day.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education estimates that, in the coming school year, up to 82 percent of the nation's schools will fail to make the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under NCLB as the flawed performance bar rises. (In 2009-2010, 38 percent of schools nationally failed to make AYP.) As a result many, many schools will be labeled as failing with many of those facing costly sanctions. Those sanctions would include, for example, Choice and Supplemental Education Services (SES) which have proven to be educationally-lacking mandates and take 20 percent of schools' Title I dollars out of the classroom at the very time that school districts budgets are being cut. See more details from the NSBA, including Secretary Duncan's response, how school board members can participate and importance of your action.

"We hope Congress passes the reauthorization," Duncan told reporters this week. "We're going to work with states on a waiver package. We're not there yet." Posted July 14, 2011

House Committee Approves ESEA Funding Flexibility Act

Meanwhile, the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee advanced a bill this week (H.R. 2445, the State and Local Funding Flexibility Act) that would give unprecedented leeway to school districts to move money from certain Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) programs to other ESEA and Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) activities.

The bill, authored by committee chairman Rep. John Kline (R-MN), envisions a very different role for the federal government when it comes to telling states and districts how to spend their money. Instead of directing states and districts to spend a certain amount on a particular population�say, English-language learners�states and districts could move the dollars out of that program and spend them on a wide range of activities authorized under the ESEA (the current version of which is No Child Left Behind). That would mean that districts could, for instance, move all of the money out of Title I grants for disadvantaged students, and spend it on, say, professional development under the Teacher Quality State Grants program. States and districts would still be required to fulfill reporting requirements for all programs, even if they move all of the money out of them. (For more specifics on the bill, as introduced, check here and here.)

"It has been perplexing to [superintendents] and schools throughout the country that they cannot move money where they need it," Kline said.

The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) supports the legislation saying it "trusts that local educators are the best equipped" to make decisions about what will impact student achievement, and since the measure calls for states and districts to continue to meet reporting requirements, it shouldn't be viewed as backsliding on accountability for the funds. (Check out AASA's letter of support here.)

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) also supports the bill. View background from the NSBA regarding the benefits to local school districts and the NSBA's letter to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Under the bill, districts would have to let states know ahead of time how they plan to use the funds, and states would have to keep the Department of Education in the loop on their spending plans. But there wouldn't be any sort of application or approval process.

Civil rights advocates, however, are already warning of the legislation's potential impact on disadvantaged and minority children."This kind of flexibility isn't what our schools need to raise achievement and close gaps. We don't see how anything good comes out of this," said Kate Tromble, the director of legislative affairs for the Education Trust, an advocacy organization in Washington that works on behalf of low-income and minority students.

In response to these concerns, an amendment was added to the bill to clarify that state educational agencies or local educational agencies must comply with civil rights requirements. Posted July 14, 2011

U.S. House Passes Child Nutrition Reauthorization

In Dec. 2, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the child nutrition reautorization bill (S. 3307) on a vote of 264 Yeas to 157 Nays. The $4.5 billion bill can now go to the White House for signature. The measure gives the federal government more power to set school nutrition standards but likely will not provide schools enough funding to cover the cost of those standards. Posted Dec. 6, 2010

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U.S. Dept. of Education, White House Address bullying
and Harassment in Schools

The U.S. Department of Education (USED) issued guidance on Oct. 26 to support educators in combating bullying in schools by clarifying when student bullying may violate federal education anti-discrimination laws. Read more ...

Proficiency standards Vary Widely

A study by the Washington-based American Institutes for Research finds that what students are expected to know in order to reach proficiency levels on exams in some states may be up to four grade levels below the standards set in the states with the most rigourous assessments. Read more

Feds to Fund Development of New State Pupil Assessments
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The U.S. Department of Education has awarded about $160 million to a consortium of 31 states, including Wisconsin, to help fund development of new computerized tests that are expected to provide near-immediate feedback and comparisons to test takers in other states. The funding, part of the Race to the Top testing competition, was awarded to the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium. The federal grant funding means Wisconsin will not have to pay to develop a new testing program. Posted Sept. 6, 2010

Department of Public Instruction Press Release
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article
Secretary Duncan Statement

Federal Stimulus Fund Outcome

In February 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provided $787 billion in stimulus funds to support fiscal relief, direct benefits, grants, and infrastructure improvements.Read more..

Wisconsin Applies for $180 million for Education Jobs Fund
On Thursday, Aug. 19, Gov. Doyle signed Wisconsin's application to receive its nearly $180 million share of the $10 billion Education Jobs Fund. Read more ..
U.S. Senate Approves 2011 Education Funding
On Thursday, July 29, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its recommendations for educaton funding int he fiscal year 2011. Read more ...
2014 Federal Issue Papers
2010 Federal Issue Papers

A delegation of WASB leaders delivered these papers to Senators Kohl and Feingold and to all Wisconsin congressional offices on Feb. 2, 2010.

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