Policy Blog: Your Source of Inside Information
The Negotiation Table
Representatives from over 100 national education organizations visited key budget negotiators in Washington, DC last week to deliver stuffed turkeys with the message, "Carve Turkeys Not Education this Thanksgiving." Magnet Schools of America was proud to join the Committee for Education Funding in this effort to protect education funding and repeal sequestration.
Over the next few weeks, congressional negotiators from both political parties must reach a final budget agreement to keep the government from shutting down again early next year. A special bipartisan conference committee has been created to lead this charge and must report a budget by December 13. It has met two times over the last few weeks, but fundamental disagreements over the size of the budget and the fate of sequestration are plaguing discussions.
The budget proposed by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives is approximately $91 billion less than the one supported by the President and Senate Democrats. It would potentially cut the U.S. Department of Education's budget by approximately 17% and would be extremely painful for most programs, including the Magnet Schools Assistance Program. The alternative budget proposed in the U.S. Senate does not propose these cuts and would restore funding to many programs.
Unless an agreement can be reached, the automatic spending cuts that were implemented earlier this year through sequestration will remain effective for the next nine years! This means the U.S. Department of Education and all its grant programs will continue to be frozen at current post-sequester levels. These cuts occur at a time when the student population continues to grow and the expectations being placed on schools and teachers are becoming even greater.
A new report released by NDD United called Faces of Austerity paints a very clear picture of the negative impact budget cuts and sequestration is having on Americans. A national survey of school administrators also shows that sequestration is disproportionately hurting school districts that rely more heavily on federal dollars. For example:
- More than half of local education agencies (LEAs) in 21 states had operating budgets in which the federal share of revenues wasabove the national average (11.8 percent).
- More than half of LEAs in 14 states had operating budgets in which the federal share was more than 15 percent.
"We have absorbed the previous cuts, but this has led to significant decreases in resources for our neediest students. Additional cuts will negatively impact our ability to adequately serve students moving forward," said one administrator who was surveyed.
Magnet Schools of America is encouraging all its members to contact their congressional representatives through our Grassroots Action Center to ask them to protect education funding. We are also interested in learning how budget cuts and sequestration have impacted your magnet schools. Please email your stories to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Budget Impasse Forces Government Shutdown
This week the federal government was forced to close its doors for the first time since 1995 because the U.S. Congress could not agree on a budget for the new fiscal year that began October 1. So what does this mean for the education community?
We'll first off; more than 90 percent of the U.S. Department of Education's 4,000 employees are now furloughed and prohibited from going to work. This includes employees in regional offices across the nation. If you are attempting to contact one of the department’s many offices you may be frustrated by your inability to get a live person on the phone for assistance. The department's website will also not be updated during the shutdown and the Institute for Education Sciences, the main research arm for the Department of Education is offline.
If your school or district is slated to receive a portion of the overall $22 billion in Title I, IDEA, or Career and Technical Education formula grants scheduled to be disbursed this week, those funds will still go out the door because they are forward funded from the last fiscal year. Money from competitive grant programs such as Race-to-the-Top, Promise Neighborhoods, and i3 is also available until the end of the year.
Schools or districts that were recently notified they will receive a Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) grant this year will not be immediately impacted by the shutdown as long as it ends soon. Generally, funds for the program are not disbursed until late October or early November. If the budget impasse lasts longer than a few days or weeks, this could change.
According to guidance released by the U.S. Department of Education, a government shutdown lasting longer than a week, "would severely curtail the cash flow to school districts, colleges and universities, and vocational rehabilitation agencies that depend on the Department’s funds to support their services. For example, many school districts receive more than 20 percent of their funds from Department-funded programs."
Currently, the situation in Washington looks pretty bleak. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are refusing to pass a funding bill unless some of the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare are delayed for an additional year. This is unacceptable to the Democrats who control the U.S. Senate and the President has threatened to veto such legislation. It is very likely that the government will remain closed until October 17 when Congress will have to reach an agreement on extending the nation's borrowing authority or debt ceiling. It remains unclear whether the two parties will reach a breakthrough before this next fiscal deadline.
For more information on the government shutdown read this Education Week article.
When thinking of places to learn about the opportunities presented by student diversity, Hartford, Connecticut may not come immediately to mind, but it should. The events that have taken place in Hartford starting with a 1989 state court case, have led to one of the most successful remedies for the de facto segregation that remained after the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education. While by no means perfect, the success in Hartford provides a wealth of information and ideas, and can serve as a great resource to help combat this problem that still exists in many metropolitan cities and suburbs around the country. Magnet Schools of America's newest board member, Susan Eaton, recently published a report about the success of Hartford's interdistrict magnet programs. Below are some of the highlights of her research.
The Brown v. Board of Education decision paved the way for the removal of enforced and intentional segregation, particularly in the South. However, after the ruling, there remained de facto segregation, predominantly in the North, which was a lot harder for civil rights lawyers to remove. In an attempt to remove this sort of segregation in Hartford and the surrounding region, in 1989 a racially diverse group of 19 schoolchildren and their parents jointly filed a lawsuit claiming that racial and class segregation in the region's public schools denied students the "substantially equal education" that was required by the state's Constitution, the case was Sheff v. O'Neill. Sheff's lawyers argued that "the condition of racial and ethnic segregation cut off white students and students of color from necessary, vital exposure to other cultures, experiences, and knowledge. Racial and ethnic segregation's attendant-concentrated poverty- the lawyers argued, “overwhelmed even the best Hartford educators who worked in schools with hallmark symptoms of profound, chronic institutional disadvantage: constant disruptions, neglect, instability, and stress."
In 1996, Connecticut’s highest court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. The court found that the school district’s borders themselves, which lined up with established racially segregated housing patterns, had created race and class isolation. The court ordered lawmakers to find a solution to reduce the racial and ethnic segregation in Greater Hartford’s public schools. It turned out that the district borders would prove difficult to change, but over time schools were built and programs were created to make crossing those borders easier.
Many people doubted whether many white families in the suburbs, with access to some of the best schools in the state, would bus their kids into Hartford, regardless of how good the new schools might be. However, those who doubted the program were greatly mistaken. Magnet schools and the Open Choice program are so popular among both urban and suburban parents that demand for them is not being met. As of summer 2012, there were 31 interdistrict magnet schools in the Greater Hartford region, enrolling about 13,000 students. The Open Choice program, which provides transportation for children who live in Hartford to attend suburban schools, enrolls about 1,700 students. Despite the impressive enrollment numbers, data shows that the schools only meet 72% of the demand among Hartford families, and that demand continues to grow.
The increasing demand for these programs is for good reason. A 2009 study compared students who applied to enroll in Connecticut’s magnet schools and were not selected through a blind lottery, and those who were selected and attended a magnet school. The study found that magnet school students who lived in urban zip codes (these students were mostly Latino or black) made greater gains and did significantly better in math and reading in high school and in reading tests in middle school. Also, suburban students (who were mostly white) who attended magnet schools outperformed their peers at traditional suburban schools. The “achievement gap” between white students and students of color also tended to be smaller in magnet schools than in traditional schools.
The study also found that students of color in magnet schools were significantly more likely to say they felt close to white students and had white friends than did students of color who did not attend magnet schools. This also held true for white students in magnet schools, showing that they were significantly more likely than their counterparts in non-magnet schools to say that they were close with students of color, and had students of color as friends.
On top of that, data from 2011 shows that, on average, the region’s 7 interdistrict magnet high schools had significantly higher graduation rates than even some of Hartford’s more affluent suburban districts. Magnet schools also do a much better job at graduating students from families with low incomes, significantly better than some of the more affluent districts. The graduation rate for low-income students in magnets ranges anywhere from 80% to above 90%, while graduation rates of low-income students in Hartford were about 60% in 2011 and 53% in 2010.
These results are powerful, and hold parallels and lessons for cities around the country suffering from similar problems. For a more in-depth look at the success in Hartford be sure to read Susan Eaton’s piece in the Abell Report and her corresponding radio interview where she discusses the Connecticut experience and what it means for other school districts.
Immigration Bill Creates New Funding for STEM Programs
The U.S. Senate recently passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that will provide a path toward citizenship for undocumented workers or illegal immigrants by a rarely seen bipartisan vote of 68-32. While there was significant discussion surrounding the various measures put in place to physically secure the border, there is also a portion of the bill that is extremely important for the education community. Tucked away, nearly 900 pages into the 1,200 page bill, is a section about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (S.T.E.M.) education.
STEM education has been a popular topic in Washington for the past couple of years, and multiple bills were proposed during the last session of Congress that included STEM visa provisions. One of the biggest problems with STEM education has been that there has been a significant lack of U.S. graduates in STEM fields. A Microsoft study released this year found that the U.S. is on pace to graduate 50,000 students with a bachelor’s degree in computer science over the next 10 years, while jobs in that field are estimated to be twice that number.
The bill seeks to solve the short-term lack of qualified workers in STEM fields by increasing the number of H-1B visas that are available, which are generally granted to highly educated and specialized professional workers. Most H-1B visa holders typically work in STEM related fields. According to a Congressional Research Service report, in 2010 almost 91,000 H-1B workers were employed in computer-related occupations, making up 47% of all H-1B beneficiaries that year. By increasing the number of these types of visas, the hope is that the short-term needs of STEM employers can be met and these jobs can stay in the U.S., even though they won’t be filled by Americans.
Many companies, especially those in Silicon Valley, stand to benefit enormously from the increase in visas. These high tech companies argue that it is extremely costly to retrain older Americans with the skills needed for new and emerging jobs, and that the country is simply not producing enough younger Americans with the skills needed for these in-demand jobs. Increasing H-1B visas will give these companies access to more highly qualified candidates with the desired skillset. However, this increase in H-1B visas has drawn considerable criticism from many groups, including labor unions, which state that companies simply want to depress wages and hire less costly temporary workers from overseas.
Despite the logical arguments on both sides, reality is more complicated. A recent study by the Brookings Institution found that in the top ten cities with the highest number of H-1B visa holders, college educated Americans in these cities are, in fact, no more likely to be unemployed. Another study actually suggests that the growth of foreign workers in American companies actually helps younger Americans, and has no noticeable consequences (good or bad) for older Americans. “In the short run, we don’t really find any adverse or superpositive effect on the employment of Americans,” said William R. Kerr, the Harvard business professor who conducted the study. So while the claims that foreign workers on H-1B visas displace American workers from those jobs may be exaggerated, so may be the claims by companies that are claiming a worker shortage. Most H-1B visa holders actually hold entry-level positions, and many economists say this serves to keep wages down.
While the debate about the effects of the expansion of the H-1B visa program will be prolonged and complicated, the immigration bill provides significant provisions to expand STEM education in the U.S. and allows for more of these jobs to be occupied by Americans in the future. The bill provides $200 million (though some advocates say it could be as much as $700 million) for investments in STEM education generated from fees from the H-1B visas. These funds can be used for a wide array of investments to further STEM education at both the higher education and K-12 level.
For example, the National Science Foundation (NSF) would be able to use some of the funds from the visa fees to provide scholarships to low-income students pursuing STEM degrees, as well as provide funds for loan repayment or forgiveness for these students. The NSF would also be authorized to use some of the funds to improve teacher training in STEM subjects, support professional development of K-12 STEM teachers in the use of technology in the classroom, and establish partnerships with institutions of higher learning and professional organizations. The bill also establishes a ‘STEM education and Training Account’, which disburses funds to states and territories for the purposes of expanding STEM education programs around the country.
The whole goal of these provisions is to instill an appreciation and fascination with STEM subjects in kids while they are still young, as well as provide them with a high quality STEM education. By doing this, as these students begin to apply to college, more and more of them will pursue degrees in STEM subjects. This is an investment whose return will not be visible for many years, but it is one worth making nonetheless. Ensuring that our students are not passed up for jobs here in the U.S. needs to be a national priority, and this increase in investment, especially at the K-12 level, is a crucial step in the right direction.
While this legislation has surpassed a major hurdle in the U.S. Senate, it must still be passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Republican Party. The Speaker of the House, John Boehner, said his chamber would not consider and vote on the Senate bill, and instead will work on separate legislation that reflects the, “will of our majority and the will of the American people."
Congressional Republicans have already expressed opposition to the Senate bill because it would grant illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship, which they believe encourages further illegal immigration.
Supporters of the Senate bill consider this provision a crucial part of the legislation. As the demographic makeup of the U.S. becomes increasingly diverse, segments of the electorate, especially Hispanic voters will hold more sway in elections putting greater pressure on both parties to reach some sort of agreement on immigration reform, even if that means handing the president another legislative victory.
Senate Takes First Stab at ESEA Reauthorization
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee approved the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind. The bill was proposed by committee Chairman Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and had the support of all Democrats on the committee, but no Republicans. The ranking Republican, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, instead proposed his own alternative bill, which was voted down on a party-line vote. Check out this chart comparing the two bills and how they would change the current law. The Harkin bill would reauthorize the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), and also add magnet schools as an acceptable restart strategy for low-performing schools. Read MSA’s statement of support for the legislation here.
The hearing tone echoed the partisan nature of the two competing bills and almost every amendment either passed or failed along party lines. As Sen. Harkin said, “I think what we’ve seen is: There are differences on both sides...” but “That’s what makes for a vibrant democracy.” While many differences remain between the Democrats and Republicans in terms of policy, one thing that both sides agree on is where the bill should go from here. Both Harkin and Alexander said that they would like to see the bill advance to the floor this year.
This is the second attempt by the committee in the past two years to renew ESEA. The last attempt took place in the fall of 2011, but never made it to the floor, despite having support from three Republicans. One difference between this attempt and the attempt in 2011 was the amount of energy, and in fact, the number of senators in the room. The attendance of the senators became such an issue, that before the lunch break on the second day of committee markup, Sen. Harkin actually yelled at Senate staffers, telling them to make sure their bosses were back after lunch since only five senators were present at the time, not close to a quorum for a vote.
During the markup, there was some lively debate on the amendments. Most notably, one proposed by Sen. Alexander that would have removed “comparability” language from the bill, and instead would have allowed Title I dollars for disadvantaged kids to follow them to the public school of their choosing. Salary comparability is way to ensure that Title I schools that have many new, lower paid teachers get their fair share of Title I funding. Currently, districts don’t have to count teacher’s actual salaries when distributing local funds; instead they simply have to make sure that all teachers are on the same pay scale. This in essence, punishes high poverty schools, which usually employ a large number of novice teachers. The threat of the removal of this language in the bill prompted an emotional response from Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Col.), one of the authors of the comparability provision, who pounded the table and proclaimed that without it, Title I should be renamed the “increase the achievement gap title” so that we are being honest with ourselves. The Democrats were able to defeat the Alexander amendment, and the comparability language remains in the bill as it hopefully makes its way to the floor.
Another interesting debate centered on the Obama administration’s use of waivers. Currently, 37 states and the District of Columbia are operating under NCLB waivers. These waivers grant states exemptions from certain provisions of NCLB in exchange for adopting certain reforms and conditions set forth by the administration and Department of Education. The main provision that states have sought exemption from is the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirement, which mandates that every student is proficient in reading and math by 2014 or face sanction and possibly closure. Under the current law, 40% of schools in Virginia were considered failing in 2010 and 91% of schools in D.C. failed to meet their targets.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) proposed an amendment that would have made it very clear that the Secretary of Education could not offer conditional waivers, which would have undermined the administration’s entire waiver program. The debate regarding this amendment turned into a competition between Sen. Roberts, and his colleague Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina to see who had the largest binder containing their state’s waiver application. Sen. Scott joked that his application had originally been used as a 50-pound weight, but now it is a 100-pound one.
So where does reauthorization go from here? Given the fact that both Senators Harkin and Alexander have stated that they would like to see the bill reach the Senate floor, there is a good chance that will occur. This is important since the last time the Senate considered an ESEA reauthorization bill was NCLB in 2001. However, it is very unlikely that we will see some sort of legislation that is ready for the president’s signature. The House ESEA reauthorization bill put forth by House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R.-MN) has very little in common with the Senate bill, making it unlikely that these two pieces of legislation could be reconciled into something that could be sent to the president. So it seems as though Sen. Scott will continue his workout for a little bit longer.
President Proposes Small Funding Increase for Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP)
The White House released its FY 2014 budget, which would increase funding for the U.S. Department of Education by $3.1 billion, or 4.5 percent. It also includes a small increase ($2.9 million) for the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) to restore vital funding that was reprogrammed in FY 2012. The president's budget would also replace sequestration, which drastically cut most federal programs earlier this year, with targeted budget cuts and revenue increases.
"This is a huge win for magnet schools and school districts," said Executive Director, Scott Thomas. "The proposed increase signals not only that MSAP is important, but the president believes it should be expanded when many programs are being either cut or eliminated." Read our full statement on the proposed budget here
A major component of the president's budget is a ten-year, $75 billion program called "Preschool for All," that would provide universal access to preschool for all low-and moderate-income families. The budget proposes a new $1 billion Race to the Top program designed to encourage states to improve college affordability and access. It also proposes substantial increases to the president's signature initiatives the Promise Neighborhoods and Innovation in Education (i3) programs.
Other highlights of the budget include:
- ($400 million) for a comprehensive Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) proposal to improve the delivery and impact of federal investments in STEM education and also support the President's goal of producing 100,000 new STEM teachers over the next decade.
- ($659 million) devoted to a revamped School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, that will sustain local efforts to turnaround low-performing schools and expand a new School Turnaround Americorps initiative.
- ($300 million) for a new High School Redesign competitive grant program that will transform the entire high school experience by utilizing partnerships with employers and institutions of higher education.
The president's budget is not considered law and its fate depends on its reception in Congress, which has its own set of priorities. It has already received criticism for its reliance on competitive grants rather than formula programs such as Title I and IDEA.
To learn more about the White House Budget, please click here
Feeling the Squeeze of Sequestration
Congress passed the FY 2013 budget that funds the U.S. Department of Education and other federal agencies, and reduced most programs by 5% due to across-the-board cuts caused by sequestration. This includes funding for Title I, IDEA, School Improvement Grants, and the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), which is reduced by $4.86 million. This will impact the number and size of MSAP grants awarded this year. To see a chart detailing the cuts to federal education programs, please click here
MSA representatives visited many congressional offices to express its strong opposition to sequestration and further cuts to MSAP. Over the last three years, MSAP has been reduced by approximately $8.2 million. (From $100 million in 2010 to $91.8 million in 2013). These are the largest funding cuts in the program's history!
To express your opposition to sequestration and further education funding cuts visit our new Grassroots Action Center to send a message to your elected officials.
Senate Appropriations Committee Passes
(FY 2013 Spending Bill)
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee advanced the Labor, HHS, and Education appropriations bill that will fund the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and its grant programs next year. The new fiscal year (FY 2013) began October 1, 2012. The committee passed the bill by a partisan vote of (16-14). The proposed legislation would increase overall education funding by approximately $400 million or .5 percent. If enacted, the department would receive $68.5 billion next year.
The Department of Education's two largest programs, Title I grants to school districts and IDEA state grants would each increase by $100 million. The Obama's administration's signature program, Race-to-the-Top (RTTT) would receive a $50 million increase and the Promise Neighborhoods program, which provides wrap-around social services to students, would increase by $20 million.
The Ranking Republican on the committee, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), expressed his disappointment in the administration's reliance on the competitive RTTT program stating,"It only benefits students in states that implement the administration's prescriptive education agenda." Senator Shelby was also unhappy that the Mathematics and Science Partnerships program was reduced by approximately $50 million.
Many education programs were level-funded including the Investing in Innovation (i3), Teacher Incentive Fund, and School Improvement Grant program.
The Arts in Education program, which has been under assault from Republicans in the House of Representatives and did not receive funding in the president's proposed budget, would be increased by 6.2 percent in the Senate bill. The chairman of the committee, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) is a long-time supporter of arts education programs.
The Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) would be reduced by approximately $2.8 million. Committee staff said the department has to reprogram this money because it is in excess of FY12 continuation costs, but not enough to support a new grant competition.
Click here to review all education program funding levels in the Senate bill.