Saturday, July 20, 2013

NCLB "reversed" in the House: so is this good?

Since the press is running headlines like "House Votes to Dump 'No Child' Education Law" and the like, I've been asked questions (like this one) saying, "this is good, right?"
Before I answer that, a small cheer from me that you're following federal education policy!! Woo-hoo!

The answer is: in some ways.

The bill freezes in place the cuts to federal grants that were put in place due to sequestration; that's about eight percent, once they all kick in. Every Democrat in the House (including the entire Massachusetts delegation) voted against it, and from a quick conversation with Congressman McGovern earlier this week (and the record of the arguments made on the floor), I suspect that the cuts, more than anything, were a major concern for House Democrats.

If you read the blog regularly, you know that these cuts have been a major headache for us; I've been posting about sequestration for months. It shook out to about $3 million in cuts for us this budgetary year (and we're hoping that the cuts we made were enough; we haven't gotten our exact numbers from the state yet), and, let's be clear: these were cuts that hurt kids and hit classroom services. I'm particularly bothered by the 130 slots we lost from Head Start. This wasn't "fat" or "extras" or any of the other nonsensical talking points you hear bantered about when it comes to grant funds; there are kids in Worcester who are going to be hurt by these cuts.

The sad truth, though, is that federal grants have been shrinking for us for a number of years. At the same time, the things that have been tied to those federal grants (at both the federal and state level--witness, for example, the state continuing to weigh in on how we spend our Title I funds) has gotten more onerous. I don't advocate that we stop accepting federal funds, but they have become less than dependable, and in some cases, rather a pain.

Another bit about funding that is of concern: the bill that was passed turns Title I and the other federal funds into one giant block grant, with it being up to state authorities on how to use the funds ('though Title I schools couldn't lose Title I funding). For English Language learners (Title III) and the like, this is a problem, because it's going to be really easy to ignore certain segments of the population this way. Plus the bill requires that 3% of Title I be set aside for a "competitive grant program" for school choice or tutoring.

It doesn't renew Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants, Promise Neighborhood Grants, or Investing in Innovation Grants; I haven't been all that impressed by any of these (and a disturbing amount of that money is just going off to consultants), but if you watch federal funding, it's worth noting.

It also eliminates maintenance of efforts requirements: currently, states have to spend a certain amount to get federal funds (so they can't replace federal funding for local funding). Removing that requirement is not a great way to improve school funding ("you're not spending enough on your local schools? Hey, that's ok, have some federal funds, anyway!").

Finally, it (as noted earlier this week) eliminates any federal requirement that teachers be assessed by student outcomes (which usually just means "score teachers by their students' test scores") and it also eliminates the requirement that states set specific goals for student achievement, either generally or for specific subgroups. There's concern from a number of groups that this could make it easy for those subgroups to get ignored. That's certainly possible ('though the current waiver system has led to things like this nonsense in Alabama), 'though the current system of judging students of any group by just test scores has been pretty lousy too, and has meant that some of those groups of students are spending a great deal of their time in school getting ready for tests rather than getting an education. Thus, that's mixed.

Now, that's the House bill. The very important other thing to keep in mind, though, is that this bill stands no chance of passing the (Democratic) Senate. Thus once the Senate gets around to passing an education bill, the conference committee is going to have their work cut out for them.

Speaking of which, not a bad time to get in touch with your Senators!
And, thanks for asking!

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