Legislative News and Updates
Magnet Schools of America is the nation’s leading advocate for the creation and support of theme-based public magnet schools. Not only does our association advance the issues that are important to our members at the federal level, we also support their state and local grassroots efforts. In addition, MSA closely monitors emerging policy issues that are important to the magnet school community. On this page, you can learn about these topics and how they impact our nation’s magnet programs.
Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Reauthorization
Congress has restarted the process of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This law has been long overdue for renewal since 2007, and is considered unworkable and overly prescriptive by states and local school districts. The last reauthorization of ESEA is known as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which was passed in 2001. Currently, 45 states have been granted waivers from some of the most punitive measures of the law in exchange for adopting educational reforms outlined by the administration. These waivers expire within two years, which should be an incentive for Congress to pass new legislation.
The 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 was proposed 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 to ensure students around the country receive equal access to high quality education. For example, states must determine ambitious performance targets for their schools that must be approved by the U.S. Department of Education. They must also adopt “college and career ready” standards in math, reading, and science. The bill also includes favorable language for magnet schools, by allowing them to be an acceptable restart strategy for low performing schools. For additional details on this proposed legislation read a summary released by the Senate HELP Committee.
Please also read MSA’s Position 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 proposed 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 states' standards or encouraging their participation in the Common Core Standards. States do need to adopt standards in math, reading, and science, but they do 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 passed in the U.S. House is very different than the bill that was introduced in the Senate. It is generally disliked by most education groups and civil rights advocates and the President has threatened to veto the bill, 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 could be sent to a conference committee where negotiators from both chambers and parties can iron out the differences in the two bills. With an overcrowded congressional agenda and looming budget battles on the horizon it seems unlikely that Congress will be able to focus its attention to ESEA reauthorization in the immediate future.
Federal Education Funding
The President annually releases a budget that outlines his spending priorities for all of the federal government’s agencies and programs. On April 10, 2013, the White House released its FY 2014 budget. It proposes to increase funding for the U.S. Department of Education by $3.1 billion, or 4.5 percent. The president’s budget also includes a small increase of $2.9 million for the Magnet Schools Assistance Program. This would restore funding that was reprogrammed in FY 2012 to the Advanced Placement (AP) Testing Program.
"This is a huge win for magnet schools and school districts," said Executive Director, Scott Thomas. "The proposed increase signals not only that the program is important, but the President believes it should be expanded when many programs are being either cut or eliminated."
The President's budget is not considered law and its fate depends on the support it receives in Congress, which has its own set of priorities. It has received criticism from both parties for its focus on competitive grants, such as Race to the Top and i3, rather than formula grants such as Title I and IDEA. The Committee for Education Funding, a national coalition of education groups, including the Magnet Schools of America, analyzed the president’s budget proposal in this detailed report.
On May 21, 2013, the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee approved its FY 2014 302(b) allocations, which sets the overall spending authority of its twelve appropriations subcommittees. These subcommittees are responsible for deciding how to fund different functions of the federal government every year. The allocations they received will potentially cut federal education programs by 18.6 percent next year, and will be in addition to those that already occurred earlier this year through sequestration. This will reduce the U.S. Department of Education’s budget by $12.2 billion and decrease federal support for education programs below FY 2002 levels. In stark contrast, the budget allocation for defense programs will only be slightly decreased by one percent next year.
These devastating cuts will disproportionately affect schools that serve our most vulnerable students. Title I grants for school districts that serve low-income children would be slashed by $2.56 billion, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which supports students with learning disorders would be reduced by $2.04 billion. The Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) would not go unscathed and could be reduced by $17 million. This would shrink funding for the program to the unprecedented level of $74 million. Only ten years ago MSAP was funded at $110 million.
The FY 2014 budget proposed by the Obama Administration would increase funding for the U.S. Department of Education and would replace sequestration with targeted budget cuts and revenue increases, rather than across the board cuts required by sequestration. The budget proposed in the U.S. Senate, controlled by Democrats, would also end sequestration and authorize a higher level of spending authority for the federal government, preventing future cuts to education programs.
The new fiscal year begins on October 1, 2013. If the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate cannot close the large gap between their overall funding proposals and budget priorities, the federal government will shut down later this year. We encourage you to visit MSA’s Grassroots Action Center and urge your elected officials to support the President’s budget proposal that provides additional resources to magnet schools across the country.
On March 1, 2013 all federally-funded education programs (other than Pell grants, which are 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 reduced by $4.86 million. These cuts are the result of Congress' failure in 2011 to enact at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, 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. The American Taxpayer Relief Act delayed the start of the cuts until March 1, 2013. Additional cuts to education programs (including Pell grants) will likely occur in FY 2014 through FY 2021 due to even lower "caps" on discretionary-funded programs, which include virtually all education programs (other than student loans) and Head Start.
Magnet Schools of America is strongly opposed to sequestration and has joined other education groups and associations in expressing its opposition to these cuts. You can also communicate your displeasure with sequestration by sending your elected officials a message in our Grassroots Action Center.
Magnet Schools of America’s Grassroots Action Center not only allows you to send messages to the President, Members of Congress, and your state leaders, you can also research pending legislation, review the votes of your elected officials, 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.
For more in-depth analysis of pending legislation and other education policy matters, please also visit MSA’s Policy Blog.