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13 May 2009

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Michigan ASCD Action Center

ASCD Action Center

ASCD Action Center

As a member of Michigan ASCD, you will receive LeadSmart, which will focus on Michigan political and policy issues and National political and policy issues.  Giving you timely and relevant public policy information and developments will be he goal of  LeadSmart as we join together to face a coming year that will be a defining moment for education in Michigan and the Nation.

National Government News

White House Seeks Input on No Child Left Behind

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is travelling to hear what teachers, students and parents in at least 15 states think about No Child Left Behind, He began with West Virginia and will be in Michigan on Wednesday, May 13, 2009. This will be the first steps toward reviewing and reforming the program that President Barack Obama has pledged to overhaul. Secretary Duncan has indicated that where things make sense, they will be kept.  He has pledged to change the things that don’t make sense. The administration needs the approval of Congress to change the 2001 law that was passed with broad bipartisan support.  However, congress was deadlocked over rewriting it in 2007.

Secretary Duncan gives the law credit for shining a spotlight on kids who need the most help by pushing schools to boost the performance of low-achieving students.  "What No Child Left Behind did is, they were absolutely loose on the goals," Duncan told the Education Writers Association, meeting in Washington. "But they were very tight, very prescriptive on how you get there.”  He thinks that that was fundamentally backwards.  Duncan feels that the federal government should be "tight" on the goals, insisting on more rigorous academic standards that are uniform across the states. And he said it should be "much looser" in terms of how states meet the goals. Students have made modest gains since the laws passage in elementary and middle schools. The story is different in high school, where progress seems stalled and where the dropout rate, a dismal one in four children, has not budged.

The Five Pillars of Barack Obama

In a recent speech, President Obama tried to connect the dots of all of his different economic programs by organizing them into five pillars:

  • New rules for Wall Street intended to reward and drive and innovation, not reckless risk-taking
  • New investments in education to make the workforce more skilled and competitive
  • New investments in renewable energy and technology to create new jobs and new industries
  • New investments in health care to cut costs for families and businesses
  • New savings in the federal budget to bring down the federal dept.

The President also suggested that entitlement reform (including putting Social Security on a more secure footing and tax reform) would be on his agenda after the five pillar issues were addressed.

Watch video footage of the speech on the Michigan ASCD Homepage: Obama Spotlights Education in Speech to Congress

Federal 2010 Budget Released

President Obama has released his much anticipated FY 2010 budget, detailing spending levels for K-12 education programs and other government agencies. Title I grants to local districts would be cut by $1.5 billion ($13 billion) under the President's budget, though that cut is offset by a $500 million increase for Title I Early Childhood Grants and an additional $1 billion for the more targeted School Improvement Grant program (for low-performing schools). Special education, Teacher Quality State Grants, and the Perkins CTE program all received no increase over FY09 levels.

The big budget winner was the Teacher Incentive Fund subsidizing performance pay at the local level which is slated to increase by $390 million to $487.3 million (401 percent). Education Technology State Grants were decimated, cut by $170 million (62.9 percent) to $100 million, while the Safe and Drug-Free Schools State Grants were eliminated completely (-$294.8 million) and the funding redirected to Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities National Activities. (Source: ASCD)

Student Loan Changes Proposed

To assist qualified students in paying for their education, the federal government , since 1965, has provided subsidies that have all but guaranteed profits to private lenders that issue higher-education loans and that carry single-digit interest rates and terms that students would not find in the private market.  Last year, the federal government had to provide emergency financing when the private lenders couldn’t raise money during the credit crunch.
All this may change.  In President Obama’s proposed budget, subsidies to private lenders would be eliminated. The plan would place all federal students lending under the government’s Direct Loan Program.  This would save about $94 million according to the Congressional Budget Office.  The government would use private companies to service the loans it originates with such services as default-prevention counseling.  Mr. Obama wants the savings to go toward increasing and then guaranteeing Pell grants for low-income students.

White House Faith-Based Partnerships Council Gets Off and Running

The first meeting of the White House Faith-Based Partnerships, originally created by President George W. Bush, was recently held.  The partnership was created primarily to support faith-based groups, including helping them get government funding or access to legal guidance about church-state boundaries. The partnership has been expanded and now includes 25 religious and secular leaders who each will serve a one year term as part of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The White House recently announced ten more members of the council that will advise the president on faith-based and other key issues.

Planning the Possible: How Schools Can Use Stimulus Dollars for Lasting Impact

ASCD Stimulus Resources
The federal government's recent investment in our education system provides states and districts with tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges. Navigating the federal legislation, researching grant deadlines, and making critical decisions about school improvements can be complicated and time consuming.

Download 'Planning the Possible' to better understand how to access and use the education dollars in the stimulus package, and to learn about additional resources that will aid your school and community improvement efforts.


Support Grows for Common National Standards

At a recent Congressional hearing on April 29, 2009, the long-held tradition in American public education that decisions about curriculum and standards are best left to the state and local school systems seemed to be eroding.  Citing mounting evidence that American students are falling behind their peers in other countries, leading education groups and government officials agreed that adopting common academic standards across all states might be the way to give students an advantage in an increasingly competitive and international marketplace.  Included in support of common standards were the American Federation of Teachers, the National Governors Association, and the Council of Chief State School Officers.  Money has been set aside in the American Recovery and Investment Act that is intended to lay the foundation for the changes necessary to move toward common academic standards.  The effort is called Race to the Top Fund.  Many hearing attendees stated that developing common academic standards was just one important step in education reform.  Other essential factors included teacher recruitment and retention, professional development, and early childhood learning program.  

New Grants Will Expand Access to Early Childhood Education

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released stimulus dollars that will significantly increase the numbers of those served by Head Start and Early Head Start programs. Current Head Start programs will be able to serve an additional 16,600 children and families with grants totaling $220 million. The $1.2 billion increase in grants for Early Head Start will nearly double participation, expanding the program to 55,000 more pregnant women, infants, toddlers, and families.  Because President Obama has indicated a strong increase in the resources and access to early childhood education, the expansion of these programs will likely be sustained through normal funding streams even though federal officials have repeatedly warned that the stimulus money is intended for one-time use. For more information, visit the HHS Web site

President and Congress Provide Spark for National Service

The bipartisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, designed to increase the participation of Americans in community service, will more than triple the number of AmeriCorps volunteers.  The stipends of the volunteers will be raised by $650 for a total of $5,350 in 2010. It will also create a National Day of Service and Remembrance on September 11 to commemorate the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Senate Agriculture Committee Holds Hearing on School Foods Program

The Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the foods and beverages available to children in our nation's schools. Testifying were representatives from nutrition, public health, the snack food and beverage industries, education, and parent groups who testified on the issue of adopting federal standards to govern foods available throughout the school day. The committee heard testimony about the childhood obesity crisis and declining levels of wellness observed among children in schools as well as the belief that improved nutrition and wellness would have a positive impact on test scores and attendance. Advocates supported a coordinated school health approach to dealing with the issue of child wellness and asked Congress to establish uniform national standards governing foods and beverages available at school. Offering a different take, a representative from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) highlighted the group's opposition to federally mandated nutrition standards in schools, citing their concern that federal efforts would be overly intrusive and burdensome on school districts and usurp the jurisdiction of local school boards to create policies reflective of the values and financial capabilities of local communities.  More hearings are expected in the coming months as the Congress works to reauthorize the child nutrition programs. 

National Trends in Academic Progress

The 2008 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report indicates that students ages 9 and 13 have posted significant gains in both reading and mathematics since the early 1970s, while the average scores for 17-year-olds were not significantly different in either subject.  NAEP charts the educational progress of students at ages 9, 13, and 17 in reading and mathematics on the NAEP.   The report compares results from the most recent NAEP long-term trend assessments, which were given in the 2007–08 school year, to results from 2004 and to the first years the reading and mathematics assessments which were given in 1971 and 1973, respectively. The report provides national results only.  Gaps in reading scores between white and black students have narrowed for all three age groups since 1971, though those gaps did not change significantly from 2004 to 2008. Reading score gaps between white and hispanic students were smaller in 2008 than in 1975 at ages 9 and 17, though there were no significant changes from 2004 to 2008. The Nation’s Report Card: NAEP 2008 Trends in Academic Progress and additional data collected from the 2008 long-term trend assessments are available online at

Voucher Compromise

A compromise has been suggested for the District of Columbia’s Opportunity Scholarship Program which provides vouchers for students to attend private schools.  The program was created by the previous Congress.  Currently, 1716 students are participating in the program.
The current Congress voted in March to cut its funding after the 2009-10 school year.

The proposed compromise would allow students in the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program to continue to receive vouchers for private school tuition for at least one year and possibly until they graduate from high school.  The president will propose setting aside money for all 1,716 current recipients, but would not allow new students to join the program, administration officials said, according to The Washington Post.  The White House proposal would amount to a gradual phase-out, according to the Post.

School choice advocates rallied in Washington, D.C. and called on lawmakers to fully restore the program.

Federal Court and Other Rulings

Special Education Goes to Supreme Court

The Supreme Court will consider when public school officials pay for private schooling for children with special needs.  To date, congress and the courts have made it clear that every child with disabilities has a right to a free appropriate public education.  If the school system can’t provide one for a child with a disability, it then must reimburse parents for private school costs.  The Supreme Court will again try to resolve the question of whether students with disabilities must first receive special education services from a public school before they can transfer to a private school and seek tuition reimbursement from the local district. The high court deadlocked 4-4 on the issue two years ago after Justice Anthony Kennedy excused himself from the case at that time.  The Supreme Court heard oral arguments recently in the new case of Forest Grove School District v. T.A, a school district's appeal of the Ninth Circuit's decision which found in favor of the parents‚ unilateral placement of their child in a private school and required the district to reimburse the family for the tuition costs. A decision is expected by next month.

Voting Rights

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Bill is being challenged before the Supreme Court.  It requires nine mostly southern states and “covered jurisdictions" in some other states to submit any proposed redistricting plans or changes in voting rules to the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division for an approval process called "preclearance." These rules can include changes as local as the location of polling places to the makeup of districts in state legislatures. Since Section 5 was the deepest and most drastic federal intrusion into state and local government affairs since Reconstruction, Congress made it temporary. Yet it has repeatedly been extended and even broadened to protect Hispanics and other "language minorities," most recently in 2006. 

The new question before the Supreme Court is whether this special Southern-only "pre-clearance" provision is still needed. "The America that has just elected Barack Obama is not the same America that existed when Section 5 was put into place," argues Gregory S. Coleman, a former Texas solicitor general in the suit he filed on behalf of an Austin utility district. If the Supreme Court were to strike down Section 5, the decision would not necessarily affect the remainder of the Voting Rights Act, but it would make local election changes in the covered states harder to challenge. (Source:  Chicago Tribune)

Rule Repeal to Relieve School Budgets

School districts are on the verge of an important victory that will relieve some pressure from their special education budgets after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced its intention this week to rescind an existing regulation that disallowed schools from being reimbursed from Medicaid funds for transportation and administrative costs related to providing Medicaid-services to students.

The initial ban on school reimbursements was finalized in December 2007 but was delayed from going into effect, a postponement that was due to expire on July 1. CMS is seeking public comment on its plan to overturn the rule. The deadline for submitting comments is June 1. (Source: ASCD)

Investing in the Whole Child: Are you on Record?

ASCD's whole child education Web site now includes a petition campaign targeted at boards of education. The petition asks the boards to go on the record in support of policies and practices that ensure all children are healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged.  You can make a difference by signing the petition and forwarding it to others who support policies that ensure what is best for our kids.  If you're ready to go on the record:

Sign the new Whole Child Petition! Join us to speak up on behalf of children in your community!

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Sign the new Whole Child Petition! Join us to speak up on behalf of children in your community!