Legislative News and Updates
Magnet Schools of America is the leading advocate on behalf of public theme-based magnet schools. Our national association advances the issues that are important to our members at the federal, state, and local level. In addition, MSA closely monitors emerging policy developments that may impact the magnet school community.
Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)
Congress began the process of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) last year. This law has been overdue for renewal since 2007, and is considered unworkable and overly prescriptive by states and local school districts. The last reauthorization of ESEA created the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2001. Currently, 43 states have been granted waivers from some of the most punitive measures of the law in exchange for adopting certain educational reforms outlined by the administration. These waivers expire every two years, which should be an incentive for Congress to pass new legislation.
Last summer, the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee marked up and passed a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act called the Strengthening America's Schools Act. It is sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and passed out of committee along a party-line vote. This bill seeks to give states more flexibility, while still maintaining an active federal role in public K-12 education. Under the legislation, states would determine ambitious performance targets for their schools, which would need to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education. They would also be required to adopt “college and career ready” standards in math, reading, and science. In addition, the bill includes favorable language for magnet schools that would allow school districts to covert their lowest performing schools into magnets as an allowable restart strategy. For more information about this legislation read this summary released by the Senate HELP Committee.
Please also read MSA’s Statement on the Strengthening America’s Schools Act
The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to reauthorize ESEA called the Student Success Act. It was sponsored by House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman, John Kline (R-MN) and passed the full chamber by a party-line vote of (221–207); twelve Republicans voted against the bill and no Democrats voted for it. The bill seeks to devolve as much power back to the states and districts as possible. It explicitly prevents the U.S. Department of Education from specifying, defining, or prescribing state standards or encouraging their participation in the Common Core Standards. States would need to adopt standards in math, reading, and science, but they would not need to be "college-and career-ready.” It also severely limits funding to many educational programs, including the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), and does not reauthorize many others, such as Race-to-the-Top, i3, Promise Neighborhoods, or School Improvement Grants. For additional details on this legislation, see this bill summary released by the House Education and Workforce Committee.
Please also read MSA’s Statement on the Student Success Act
For ESEA reauthorization to be finalized, both chambers of Congress must agree to identical versions of this legislation before it can be sent to the President for his signature. The Student Success Act, which was passed in the U.S. House is very different than the bill that was introduced in the Senate. It is generally disliked by education groups and civil rights advocates and the President has threatened to veto the bill, which is never a good sign. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the ranking Republican on the Senate HELP Committee expressed his optimism that an ESEA reauthorization bill can be sent to a conference committee where negotiators from both chambers and parties can iron out the differences in the two bills. Due to the fundamental disagreements between the two parties on education policy and the looming congressional elections that are on the horizon, it remains unclear whether or not Congress will return its attention to ESEA reauthorization this year.
Federal Education Budget
President Obama released his FY 2015 budget laying out the administration’s funding prerogatives for the next fiscal year beginning October 1, 2014. Like every presidential budget, this is a political document that sets the stage for what the president envisions for the country. Ultimately, it is up to Congress to review the budget and decide how to allocate funds for all federal programs through the appropriations process. The entire budget is approximately $3.9 trillion and includes $564 billion in deficit spending, which adds to our accumulating national debt. The White House projects, however, that the deficit will be 3.1 percent of GDP in 2015, which is a six-year low.
To support our nation’s educational system, the president’s budget would allocate $68.8 billion for the U.S. Department of Education or a $1.3 billion increase above FY 2014. This was one of only two cabinet agencies to receive a funding increase in the budget. A majority of the department’s funding, approximately three-fourths, will go toward financial aid for college students, special education programs, and disadvantaged students through Title I grants. The president’s budget also makes continued investments in signature programs, such as Race to the Top (RTT), Investing in Innovation (i3), School Improvement Grants (SIG), Promise Neighborhoods, and the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF).
Unfortunately, the president's budget does not provide additional support for the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), which helps schools districts create magnet programs that promote school integration and systemic educational reforms. It also fails to provide relief from cuts that were implemented to the program over the last few years through sequestration. If enacted, the budget would provide only $91.6 million for MSAP, which is down from the 2010 level of $100 million. Read MSA’s statement opposing these cuts.
Magnet School Funding and Appropriations
On January 16, 2014 Congress passed legislation that allocated funds to all federal agencies and discretionary grant programs for FY 2014. The passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act prevented another government shutdown from occurring and marked a major turning point in a budget process that has been plagued by extreme partisanship over the last few years.
The funding bill ended a majority of the cuts that were implemented last year due to sequestration and restored $1.6 billion to the U.S. Department of Education. It replenished funding to Title I and IDEA grants, GEAR UP, Career and Tech education programs, and charter school grants. It also fully restored the $401 million sequester cut to Head Start, and included $500 million for Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships. For a full break down of the funding bill see this chart prepared by the Committee for Education Funding.
The Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), which was cut by $5.1 million last year due to sequestration, was not one of the programs provided with relief from this harmful policy. This prevents many well deserving school districts from participating in MSAP. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education was forced to reduce the number of MSAP awards to only 27 school districts, or eleven less grantees from the previous grant cycle. Only a decade ago 50 school districts were able to receive MSAP support.
Congress is currently working on next year's appropriations bills and we need you to help us build support for our nation's magnet schools. Please visit our Grassroots Action Center and submit a message to your elected officials asking them to restore funding for the Magnet Schools Assistance Program in FY 2015.
Magnet Schools of America’s Grassroots Action Center allows you to send messages to your elected officials, research pending legislation, review the votes of your members of Congress, and draft letters-to-the-editor of your local newspapers. MSA has also created a Grassroots Action Plan to help you build support for your magnet programs at the state and local level. We encourage you to utilize both of these tools to actively participate in the policy making process.
On March 1, 2013 all federally-funded education programs (other than Pell grants, which were initially exempt for one year) were subject to a 5% automatic across-the-board spending cut. This reduced funding for programs in the U.S. Department of Education by $2.2 billion including Title I, IDEA, and School Improvement Grants. The Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) was also reduced by $4.86 million. These cuts occurred because Congress failed to enact at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction in 2011 as required by the Budget Control Act. This task was given to a congressionally appointed super committee, which ultimately could not reach an agreement on how to reduce the nation’s deficit.
Because Congress was unable to adopt a balanced deficit reduction plan that included both revenues and spending cuts, the entire $1.2 trillion will now be taken primarily from discretionary-funded programs over the next ten years. Thankfully, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 temporarily suspended approximately 2/3 of sequestration related cuts for FY 2014 and FY 2015. This agreement gives congressional negotiators a two-year window to resolve their differences before sequestration is reinstated.
Policy Insider Blog
For more in-depth analysis of pending legislation and other education policy matters, visit our Policy Blog.