In this edition of Take 5, Gary talks about the MASA nominations to the Board of Directors, the 2016 awards nominations process, and the 2016 MASA/MASE Spring Conference.
The Advocate, November 2015
AASA, The School Superintendents Association
ESEA and appropriations. Appropriations and ESEA. It seems like these two policies have dominated the federal education policy environment all year. And they have. But to what avail? While neither seems likely to cross the finish line without political bruising, is there an end in sight?
Many of you know that I have bet against ESEA reaching the finish line this year, and that is a position to which I still subscribe. That said, there is still room for optimism, and this is a bet I’d be okay losing. And as I write this, the House and Senate Education Committee leadership staff are deep in negotiations to reconcile the differences between their two bills and to advance a conferenced bill that can be voted on and sent to the President.
From the appropriations angle, Congress avoided a shutdown. The continuing resolution policy makers passed to keep government running expires December 11. The CR deal also raised the debt ceiling through March 2017 and raised the overall funding levels for FY16 and FY17 to above-sequester levels, staving off deep, deep cuts. The threat of shutdown was averted, and the chambers have resumed their work of moving a complete appropriations bill in advance of the looming CR deadline.
Congress is not in the clear though. The appropriations bills will be ripe with policy riders, priorities outside of funding work that members attach to bills. These riders can be bipartisan or highly divisive and they cover the gamut. As a point of context, in the 12 appropriations bills introduced in the Senate this year alone, there were more than 550 (!) policy riders. The threat of shutdown during the remaining appropriations process is present, but it is over policy riders, not appropriations itself.
As both ESEA and appropriations continue to move forward, there is ample opportunity to work with your member of Congress. Contact all of your members of Congress—especially any Republican Representatives—to urge them to support ESEA reauthorization. You can refer to the AASA conference letter priorities or the talking points below:
When you reach out on appropriations, the asks are simple:
As you may know, the 2016 Legislative Session begins on Tuesday, March 8th. Though we are more than three months from that time, the education committees are already starting to meet. The House Education Finance Committee recently held a hearing regarding the efforts of the Board of Teaching to streamline licensure processes. It was clear that many legislators were not satisfied with the results to date form the Board of Teaching on this issue.
The Senate Education Committee held a hearing on reducing the achievement gap and the MMR process. The Senate Education Committee has scheduled six more meetings for late January/February to prepare for the upcoming session.
Along with a few other representatives from education organizations, I met with a representative of Governor Dayton regarding early childhood education. We continue to strive to find common ground on this topic.
Please know that our 2016 MASA Legislative Platform will address a number of finance and policy issues. The MASA Board of Directors will consider adoption of the platform on December 16th. Once adopted we will disseminate the platform to all of our members. As has been the case in the past, you will play a key role in influencing our elected officials. During the coming month, I will be working with regional leaders to establish our member advocacy calendar for the coming session.
As you can see, though we are in November, the legislative season has begun. Thanks for your past advocacy efforts. I look forward to working with each of you as we move towards the 2016 legislative session!
In this edition of Take 5, Gary talks about the 2016 MASA Superintendent of the Year Award, the recent bond and levy election results, MASA committee meetings, and the upcoming CLM/TLM Instructional Leadership Conference.
Our committees are up and running!
The Nominating Committee met on Monday and did a great job of recommending our members for a number of board positions and association awards.
The Legislative Committee met today and crafted a focused legislative platform for board consideration.
Our Executive Committee meets tomorrow to create our professional development focus for the coming year. The Federal Advocacy Committee will meet on November 13.
Sincere THANKS to all of our members who donated their precious time to participate on these committees. The strength of our association rests with skills and passion of our members!
The Advocate, October 2015
AASA, The School Superintendents Association
Perhaps the biggest news on ESEA has nothing to do with ESEA at all. Rather, it is that John Boehner announced his October 30 resignation as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and from his elected office. This has no direct impact on ESEA in that no one really knows what was in the works. What remains to be seen, however, is what action will take place. Leadership from the U.S. House and Senate education committees (Reps. John Kline and Bobby Scott, along with Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray) were named as conferee chairs, but we have yet to see who else will be a conference committee member.
We want to keep pressure on Congress to act this fall. A letter was sent to Capitol Hill in coordination with nine other national organizations to relay that message. You can also read AASA’s letter, which focuses on five particular policy areas: accountability, portability, expanded data collection, alternate assessment and Title I formula.
Boehner’s announced departure was followed by the announcement of Secretary Duncan’s departure in December. The impact of this departure remains to be seen and is debatable. We aren’t necessarily certain that his departure is a signal that the U.S. Department of Education will be more involved in ESEA discussions or that a “fresh face” at the department will necessarily prove helpful. The department did piece together—in a rather flurried moment—a round table discussion with Senators and interested stakeholders on October 8 to talk about the importance of expanded accountability. This could potentially be a move by the department to insert itself into advancing ESEA discussions. If that is the case, it is not certain that the department’s influence would create a willingness to write in more prescription and requirements as they relate to accountability in ESEA.
On appropriations, Congress acted—at the 11th hour—to avoid a shutdown. The House and Senate passed a clean continuing resolution (CR). A CR is used by Congress to allow the government to keep running even when it hasn’t completed its funding work in time for the start of the fiscal year (October 1). The short-term CR runs until December 11. Congress has until that date to complete its appropriations work or pass another short-term CR. As a point of reference, we had seven short term CRs last year. The timing on this CR is tricky. The debt ceiling is expected to be raised in late November or December. There will be a politicization of that discussion. The last time it was super politicized, we had the threat of a shutdown and ended up with the Budget Control Act, which triggered sequestration. We expect a contentious environment around both the debt ceiling and any subsequent fiscal policy after this initial CR.
Congress still has a responsibility to replace or repeal the sequester. If it does not, policy makers must ensure that the pressure of sequestration applies equally to all aspects of the discretionary dollars (defense and non-defense). We have talked about the very significant education cuts that the House and Senate budgets for this year include. The House cuts are comparable to that of the 2013 sequester while Senate cuts are only slightly better. Given the poor funding within the proposed House and Senate education levels, one might think that a year-long CR would be a good deal. However, a year-long CR would still be subject to the caps of sequester. And while there would be level funding, there are some programs in the broader budget that come with mandatory increases. Mandatory increases in a level funding scenario means cuts for others, including education, and those cuts would play out like a sequester, across the board, blind to program need or effectiveness. It also shifts the dynamic of sequester. To date, the cuts of sequester caps have applied to ALL aspects of discretionary funding, both defense and non-defense. One of the programs that would get an increase is a defense program, meaning that defense would get an increase while non-defense discretionary (including education) would not. The limited success we have had in thwarting off deeper cuts has been the strong claim—supported by the administration—to parity between defense and non-defense discretionary. And a year-long CR would implode parity.
The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon …
In 1866, when John Greenleaf Whittier wrote the narrative poem, Snowbound, a chronicle of his family experiencing a huge snowstorm, they did not have today’s technology and they were certainly at the mercy of winter’s fury.
Today, we have more resources for predicting winter weather, and we certainly have more resources for surviving it—central heating, snowplows, and Gore-Tex are blessings. But to a certain extent we are still at the mercy of the whims of winter weather.
We all know and have most likely experienced the stories of superintendents out at 4:30 am, driving the school bus routes, consulting with their neighboring colleagues on the hands-free. Should we close? It’s a maddening decision. No matter which way the decision goes, the phone will constantly ring with messages from community members who think the decision was the worst EVER made by a district leader.
Well we are going to try to help.
This year, the National Weather Service (NWS) will be partnering with MASA to provide more resources to school leaders. MASA will host a tailored web site on which school leaders can enter their zip code and get relevant information specifically for that area. MASA is also sharing email addresses for our member superintendents with the NWS, so superintendents will receive emails on approaching hazardous weather early enough to begin analyzing weather data from the website to inform decision-making.
We will notify MASA members when the new web site is online.
The NWS will also provide thorough educational resources focused on preparing school to be “StormReadyR.” The web site mentioned above will include a link to an online kit for staff and students to become “StormReadyR.” School districts that have been certified as “StormReadyR” have found increased parent and staff confidence.
Another service the NWS provides is a webinar for significant weather events approaching a region. For example, the weather service forecasted a significant snow event for the metropolitan area on November 10th, 2014. The NWS and media outlets appropriately warned that a significant snowfall event was going to impact the region. The winter storm warning informed us that the Twin Cities metropolitan area would receive 14 inches of snow. The storm dropped up to 16 inches of snow in the northern metropolitan counties, and southern counties received only 1 to 2 inches of snow. As a result of the webinar provided by the weather service, northern metropolitan school districts decided to close in order to give plows a chance to clean roadways. Southern metropolitan school districts maintained normal operations. Being in direct contact with the NWS, and armed with more specific and detailed data, provides more relevant information in an ambivalent, yet important, storm situation.
MASA is grateful to John Schultz, Superintendent of the Hopkins Public Schools; Daniel Luna, Meteorologist-in-Charge of the National Weather Service, Twin Cities; and John Wetter, Technical Services Manager and Meteorologist, Hopkins Public Schools for their leadership in bringing this resource to MASA members.
It’s a beautiful autumn day here at MASA World Headquarters. The sun is shining; there is a light breeze; the trees are showing off their bright fall colors. But as sure as there are Christmas decorations next to the Halloween candy on the shelves at Target, the snow and cold are coming, and our wonderful Minnesota seasons will once again change the weather.
Today, the House and Senate Higher Education Committees will be holding a hearing regarding the Higher Learning Commission, Clarification of Faculty Roles and Qualifications, and Concurrent Enrollment in Minnesota. As most of you may know, the Higher Learning Commission has established new teacher qualifications for high school teachers to teach concurrent enrollment classes. Based on responses from our members, this change will severely damaging the programs in our schools. This will have a negative impact on our students!
The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) will have an opportunity to state why this change is being proposed. Many MASA members and others will testify as to why this proposed change will be damaging to our students. We’re hopeful that the HLC will reconsider their direction. Minnesota has a long history of supporting expanded opportunities for our students. The HLC proposed change is not necessary and needs to be withdrawn.
What are your thoughts?
In this edition of Take 5, Gary provides a recap of the 2015 MASA Fall Conference, reminds members to save the date for the 2015-16 MASA/MASE Spring Conference, details about the CLM/TLM Instructional Leadership Conference, MASA fall committee meetings, and the MASA member survey.
Last week a delegation from MASA and MASE descended upon Washington D.C. to advocate for the children of Minnesota. Our group consisted of MASA President, Jeff Ronneberg, Federal Advocacy Chair, Connie Hayes, Federal Advocacy Committee Member David Krenz, MASE Executive Director John Klaber, MASE President, Todd Travis and me.
During the three days that we spent in Washington we had the opportunity to meet with the AASA Federal Advocacy Team, representatives of the United States Department of Education, all of our elected members of the House and Senate or their legislative representative.
We focused on three main issues in our meetings. They included the reauthorization of ESEA, maintenance of effort for special education and future education funding levels. We also spoke to other issues such as the Higher Learning Commission modifying the qualifications for teachers to teach concurrent enrollment classes in our schools.
It was a great experience to represent our members and advocate for the children in Minnesota. There was a great deal of uncertainty regarding many of our issues. It was clear that our elected officials have many plates spinning at this time. The top priority is to avert a government shutdown which could occur if a budget deal is not reached by September 30.
Thanks to my colleagues for doing great work! I was very proud of each of you!
The Advocate, September 2015
AASA, The School Superintendents Association
As another school year begins, many school district leaders are once again tasked with proving how they are “doing more with less.”
A superintendent’s tenure is often tested, however unrealistically, by whether or not he or she can demonstrate that, even given fewer resources, more students are learning at higher rates, and dollars are being used more efficiently than in the past. But, even with the cleverest of finance directors, superintendents and pupil service directors can be stymied in their efforts by federal policy barriers. The best example of this roadblock is the maintenance of effort provisions found in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
As Congress continues to fail to provide even 40 percent of the 40 percent it owes states and districts for educating students with disabilities, the maintenance of effort framework in IDEA has become a significant hindrance to district leaders trying to fill budget shortfalls from the federal, state and/or local level.
The “maintenance of effort” (MoE) provisions are intended to ensure education funding is cut as little as possible in tough economic times and that federal funding does not take the place of other money that should be coming from state and local coffers. However, the 100 percent MoE requirement for IDEA—in contrast to the 90 percent MoE requirement for Title I—means there is far less wiggle room for districts facing across-the-board funding shortfalls to reduce special education expenditures even if it is the equitable or reasonable thing to do and can be done without negatively impacting student services.
While IDEA currently provides district leaders with a few exceptions, such as a decrease in special education enrollment to readjusting their current special education funding levels, the recession acutely highlighted how the exceptions need to be broadened at the local level.
In July, AASA spearheaded the introduction of an important bill in Congress that will provide districts with flexibility to ensure they are not wrongly penalized for changes in their special education funding levels that in no way impact the provision of special education to students with disabilities. The bill is called the Building on Local District (BOLD) Flexibility in IDEA Act (HR 2965). It adds two additional exceptions to the MoE provisions in IDEA. The first allows districts to reduce special education spending if they are increasing the efficiency of their special education programs and there is no impact on the provision of special education services to students. The second allows districts to reduce the MoE level if the reduction in expenditures is related to employment-related benefits provided to special education personnel (such as pay, retirement contributions, health insurance) as long as the reduction does not result in a decline in the provision of special education services to students.
The bill also allows districts to apply to the State for a waiver to reduce MoE if they’re facing a serious financial crisis and can provide evidence they’re in compliance with IDEA. This waiver option is available under Title I and would bring IDEA and Title I in closer alignment.
While Congress is still focused on finishing the ESEA reauthorization process, this bill stands as an important marker of the policy fixes that AASA will be prioritizing in our push to reauthorize IDEA. Across the country, district leaders are re-negotiating contracts with vendors and unions, repurposing technology or equipment, or creating site-specific programs for students with specific disabilities that have made their special education programs stronger and reduced special education expenditures. The federal government should incentivize these responsible and innovative actions by district leaders and not prohibit districts from realizing the savings they find in their special education programs.
The bold flexibility in IDEA acknowledges that school system leaders must comply with IDEA as well as honor their fiduciary duty to allocate resources economically to the taxpayers in a district. Unnecessarily maintaining special education funding levels because of an inflexible federal requirement does not allow districts to efficiently allocate limited resources to serve the maximum number of students. Savings that districts realize in their local special education expenditures should be allowed to be reallocated to the general education budget—or to fill budget holes—so administrators can dedicate these resources in a manner that best serves all of their students.
We are proud to partner with the Council of Administrators in Special Education and the Association of School Business Officials in lobbying for this important change to IDEA. If your district would benefit by the incorporation of this bill into IDEA, please take a moment to reach out to your representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives and ask them to co-sponsor HR 2965. You can read more about the bill on the AASA Leading Edge blog.
Technology is playing a more important role than ever before in how school districts across the state function. Every area within districts is now infused with technology. The result is a safer, more comfortable, more efficient, more engaging, more connected, and more personalized learning environment for our students, families, and staff. The role of technology leader in a school districts has evolved and it requires the person understand the needs of the entire district to serve all stakeholders effectively.
This is the introduction to an article in the Fall, 2015 MASA "Leaders Forum" newsletter. Below you will find a link to a podcast of the full content of the article.
In this edition of Take 5, Gary reminds members about the 2015 Fall Conference, the Aspiring Superintendents' Academy and the annual strategic plan survey.
The 2015 MASA Fall Conference is fast approaching! The conference will be held Sunday, evening, September 27th through Tuesday noon, September 29th. We will meet in Duluth at the DECC. A detailed schedule of all events associated with the conference is available on our website at www.mnasa.org. The theme for the conference is Future Ready Leadership! We have great general and breakout sessions for you. You will have the opportunity to hear from our Richard Green Scholar, Curt Tryggestad, Superintendent of Eden Prairie Public Schools.
We have 82 of our business partners and vendors who will be in our exhibit hall. What a great opportunity to interact and search out good deals for your district or department. The MASA Foundation golf outing will be held on Sunday afternoon www.mnasa.org. All proceeds are used to provide professional support to our members. Examples include our Professional Assistance Team and Mentor/Mentee programs.
Registration materials and all of the events are available on our website at www.mnasa.org. Please contact any of our staff at 651.645.6272 with any questions that you may have. I look forward to seeing you in Duluth!