July 24, 2012
Department of Education's Sequestration Announcement Stuns Educators
In a stunning turn of events, the U.S. Department of Education has revealed that the major K–12 education programs will be exempt from any sequestration funding cuts during the 2012–13 school year! The announcement, which came in the form of a memo (PDF) sent on Friday to chief state school officers from Deputy Secretary of Education Anthony Miller, is a shocking development for education experts and political observers who, up to now, believed that all federal education programs would be subject to a devastating 8.4 percent across-the-board cut beginning in January 2013.
According to Miller, "Assuming Congress enacts a 2013 appropriations bill that is structured similarly to the pending House or Senate bills—a reasonable assumption based on past practice—there is no reason to believe that a sequestration would affect funding for the 2012–13 school year." The programs that would be spared cuts in the upcoming school year include Title I and Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, special education, and career technical education.
The deputy secretary also asserts that "the potential for sequestration should not upset planning and hiring decisions for the immediately upcoming 2012–13 school year." The revelation dramatically shifts the landscape for educators within states, districts, and schools, many of whom made or were making important budgetary and personnel decisions with the sequestration cuts in mind.
The news and its timing is all the more astounding given the department's months-long silence on the issue and the myriad education organizations and associations, including ASCD, that have filled the information vacuum by advising educators to prepare for the significant cuts that are to affect all federal agencies on January 2, 2013. Indeed, the American Association of School Administrators recently surveyed school administrators about their preparations for the looming sequestration cuts, finding that more than half trimmed their 2012–13 budgets to offset sequestration.
Although the good news is that the devastating effect of sequestration will not occur in January, the bad news is that it will still happen later in 2013, a fact that Miller emphasizes in his memo when he writes that "the damage from across-the-board cuts… would be severe" during the 2013–14 school year.
In fact, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education will hold a hearing tomorrow on the effects of sequestration on education. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; North Carolina State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson; Billy Walker, Superintendent of Randolph Field Independent School District in University City, Tex.; and other education experts will testify about the disruptive effect of huge cuts in federal education funds.
Look for an update about this week's incredible sequestration developments and the Senate hearing in the next issue of Capitol Connection.
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House Panel Eliminates Major Education Programs for FY13
A House appropriations subcommittee voted along straight party lines to maintain funding for key K–12 education programs at current levels while completely eliminating three of the Obama administration's signature reform initiatives. The House panel cut all funding for the Race to the Top program (-$550 million), School Improvement Grants (-$533 million), and the local Investing in Innovation grant competition (-$150 million).
The bill funds federal education programs at $2.9 billion below President Obama's FY13 budget request and $1.8 billion above the FY12 education budget; it is a marked departure from the Senate’s recently approved appropriations bill, which maintains the aforementioned grant competitions.
The House bill
- Keeps Title I funding for disadvantaged students at $15 billion.
- Boosts special-education funding by $500 million, for a total of $12.1 billion.
- Increases Head Start funding by $45 million, for a total of $8 billion.
- Maintains the $60 million Promise Neighborhood grant program.
- Eliminates funding for almost every program under the college, career, and citizenship umbrella, including Elementary and Secondary School Counseling (-$52 million), Carol M. White Physical Education Program (-$78 million), and Arts in Education (-$25 million).
The full appropriations committee may vote on the bill next week, according to congressional staffers. However, any final determination on the FY13 education budget will almost certainly languish as a result of election year politics.
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NCLB Waivers Become the New Normal
The majority of states no longer have to show that 100 percent of their students have reached proficiency in reading and math by the end of the 2013–14 school year. The Department of Education granted another seven states waivers from key No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act requirements last week, bringing the total number of state waivers to 33 and continuing to quietly dismantle NCLB as the education law of the land.
The seven states to recently receive the waivers in exchange for instituting state-developed reforms that focus on college and career readiness, improvements in the lowest-performing schools, and teacher effectiveness are Arizona, the District of Columbia, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oregon, and South Carolina.
Five states—California, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, and Nevada—have waiver applications that are pending approval, and 12 states—Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming—have not yet requested a waiver. Vermont withdrew its waiver request over differing opinions regarding its proposal to use local performance measures instead of state tests to gauge student achievement every other year.
The remaining states have until September 6 to apply for the next round of waivers.
In an interesting development, ASCD has learned that the department is considering a waiver option for districts in those states that are not awarded nor seek a state waiver. This move raises serious questions about how to hold states to the 2013–14 proficiency deadline and other NCLB requirements when some of their districts are no longer subject to the same mandates. It also potentially undermines state authority, creating confusion over who is ultimately responsible for school accountability and improvement, and unearths issues related to the department’s capacity to oversee multiple district applications and reform plans on top of the dozens of state waiver plans that it has already approved.
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Districts Eligible for New $29 Million Literacy Grant Program
High-need local education agencies (LEAs) and the national nonprofits that serve them are invited to apply for a new $29 million literacy grant program. The Innovative Approaches to Literacy competition will support innovative and high-quality programs that promote early literacy, motivate older children to read, and increase student achievement. The new program partially fills the gap after the $25 million Reading Is Fundamental program and $19 million Improving Literacy Through School Libraries program were defunded by Congress in FY11.
Applicants must submit plans that demonstrate innovative approaches to literacy that include free book distribution, childhood literacy activities, or both, and that are supported by at least one scientifically valid research study. Competitive preference will be given to plans that are designed to help turn around the persistently lowest-achieving schools, improve reading readiness or student achievement through the use of digital tools or materials, boost early learning outcomes, and serve students in rural LEAs.
The deadline to apply is August 10, 2012, and the Department of Education will hold technical assistance webinars for interested applicants tomorrow, July 25, at 3:00 p.m. eastern time and Friday, August 3, at 4:00 p.m. eastern time.
The department expects to award about 30 $150,000 to $750,000 grants to LEAs and up to four $3 million to $14 million grants for nonprofits.
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Who Made the List?
Under the nearly $150 million Investing in Innovation program, the Department of Education has invited the highest-rated 124 pre-applicants to compete for one of 17 development awards of up to $3 million each. More than 650 districts, groups of schools, and nonprofit organizations submitted pre-applications for these grants.
The development grants are intended to fund new education programs that exhibit strong potential to improve student achievement and merit further exploration and research. Of the 124 invited applicants, 23 focus on teacher and principal effectiveness; 39 focus on science, technology, engineering, and math education; 32 focus on parent and family engagement; 20 focus on school turnarounds; and 10 focus on rural education. They range from school districts like Abilene Independent School District in Texas and Oxford Hills School District in Maine to nonprofits like Teach For America and WestEd to higher education institutions like the University of South Florida and Western Michigan University.
Applicants have until August 17, 2012, to apply for the awards.
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