In this Take 5, Gary provides an update on the MN legislature and encourages all members to reach out to their legislators during the upcoming call-to-action days!
The Advocate, April 2017
Noelle Ellerson Ng
Associate Executive Director, Policy and Advocacy
AASA, The School Superintendents Association
As we move into April, just four months into the New Year, it is critical that we address a few things about advocacy and the role of the superintendent in advocacy. In short, what you do matters. Keep it up. And let us know how we (Sasha, Leslie and I) can help you.
When we were talking about the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, which eventually became the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), we talked about the pendulum of federal involvement in education. Under NCLB, the pendulum was positioned firmly over dictating and prescribing to state and local education leaders. One of the biggest accomplishments—and framing perspectives—of ESSA was to return that pendulum back toward a role for the federal government focused on supporting and strengthening public schools by empowering state and local education leaders.
Let’s keep the pendulum metaphor and apply it to advocacy more generally. With this New Year, new Congress and new administration, we can safely (and unfortunately) see that the pendulum of support/priority for public education has swung toward prioritizing privatization. It is a less-than-heartening reality and remains at the core of what we are focused on at AASA—ensuring that a high-quality public school is a viable option for every parent and every community.
When you have an environment that is premised on privatization over support for public education, every policy seems like something we have to engage on. The current environment in Washington, D.C.—as it relates to federal education policy conversations—can at best be described as concerning, if not threatening. As such, when we provide updates to AASA members, we are ever cognizant of the fact that almost all policy areas include something that could be considered a threat, or not good news. With that in mind, and knowing that the effort to build out and support superintendent advocacy in 2017, we wanted to remind you of a few important points:
The first one is all about the broader framing concepts, including the need for continued investment in education and maintaining parity between defense and non-defense funding. The second part, coming mid-month, will be a great complement and will have program-specific details and talking points. AS always with the superintendent advocacy challenge, if you would prefer to focus on a priority other than the ones already featured, just let us know what you need.
We are at the point in the legislative session where we need your advocacy. The legislature will be on break next week. This will be a perfect opportunity to interact with them about the E-12 education bills that have passed the House and the Senate. The next step will be to have a Conference Committee work out the differences between the bills and create one bill that will be voted upon in the House and Senate. Once approved, the bill will be sent to the Governor for his consideration.
Attached is information regarding provisions of the House and Senate bills that MASA supports or opposes. Our top priority continues to be the General Education Formula. Currently Governor Dayton is proposing a 2% increase each year on the formula. The House is at 1.25% each year and the Senate is at 1.5% each year. The House and Senate proposals are woefully inadequate! You may recall that our platform called for a 3% increase each year. We need a minimum increase of 2% on the formula each year. In order for this to occur the E-12 target must be significantly increased in the House and the Senate.
The ask for this ACTION ALERT is that you contact your elected officials over the course of the next 2 weeks. Stress the need to increase the targets. Also please review the attachment and pick out one or two additional items that you want to stress to your elected officials. Also contact Governor Dayton. Thank him for his commitment to education. Also, share with him areas of the House and Senate bills that concern you.
When the legislature returns, there will only be about 5 weeks left in the session. Please take the time to have your voice heard regarding these very important issues.
I thank you in advance!
In this edition of Take 5, Gary announces the recipients of the MASA Polaris Leadership Award and the Richard Green Scholar for 2017. He also reminds active members about the current elections and provides a quick update on the Minnesota legislature.
For Educational Leaders
Public Benefit or Private Promotion?
by Shari Prest, Ark Associates
There is little doubt that advocates for a wide range of “school choice” programs and the privatization of education hope to make great strides this year. The United States Secretary of Education appointed by President Trump, Betsy DeVos, is primarily known for her advocacy of school choice, school voucher programs and charter schools. Unfortunately, her involvement and experience with traditional public schools is remarkably limited.
It is important that educational leaders provide accurate information to all stakeholders for discussions related to school choice, beginning with a shared definition of school choice.
School choice is a term for K–12 public education options. It includes a wide array of programs offering students and their families alternatives to the publicly-provided schools to which students are generally assigned by the location of their family residence.
The Minnesota State Constitution articulates: “The stability of a republican form of government depends mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.”
Students in Minnesota have school choice options by law. These options include open enrollment, charter schools, and approved public online schools. Many districts also offer unique program options such as magnets, gifted and talented, targeted services, alternative learning, English Learner (EL), special education, and online or blended learning.
Some other states provide financial assistance to parents who pursue private school options. This assistance may take the form of school vouchers, which support public school students attending private schools; scholarship tax credits; personal tax credits and deductions; and education savings accounts (ESAs), which allow parents to receive public funds directly for educational expenses (Ballotpedia—Public Policy in Minnesota).
Critics contend that the range of school choice programs diverts funds from traditional public schools, thereby generating unequal outcomes for students. In addition, critics argue that school voucher programs wrongly direct tax dollars to religious organizations, which operate many private schools.
Currently, according to EdChoice (formerly the Friedman Foundation), 17 states provide some form of tax-credit scholarships for students. In Florida, for example, corporations can donate money to “tax-credit scholarships” in lieu of paying taxes for the amount donated. In that case, the money does not go through the government and therefore is not subject to the church/state restrictions. The Florida model diverts what would be public dollars to private organizations.
One likely point of conflict is President Trump’s pledge to earmark $20 billion for school choice programs such as vouchers, which could be used to pay tuition at private schools. But where that $20 billion would come from and how it might affect other funds administered by the U.S. Department of Education is troubling to some administrators, even though the bulk of school funding comes from the state. (San Diego Union Tribune, March 22, 2017
Our annual MASA/MASE Spring Conference is being held Thursday and Friday morning, March 9-10 at the Minneapolis Marriott Northwest. The theme for our conference is Our Best Leadership Practices. We have general sessions, Edcamp, breakout sessions, awards program, an exhibit hall and other stimulating components to provide you with a high quality professional development activity. This will be a great opportunity to learn with your colleagues! Registration Materials are available on the MASA web site at www.mnasa.org.
Also, I encourage you to donate to the MASA Foundation. The Foundation supports our Professional Assistance Team (P.A.T.), the MASA Mentor/Mentee Program and provides scholarships for members to attend professional development activities. The top two regions making donations will receive additional professional development dollars for the 2017-2018 school year. You can donate today at www.mnasa.org/donate!
Thanks in advance!
I look forward to seeing many of you at our spring conference!
Noelle Ellerson Ng
Associate Executive Director, Policy and Advocacy
AASA, The School Superintendents Association
2017: The Year of School Superintendent Advocacy
With a new year, a new Congress, and a new administration, now is as good a time as ever to issue an advocacy challenge. And while here at AASA we focus on federal advocacy, the premise of this month’s article can apply just as readily to state and local advocacy.
When it comes to advocacy, Sasha, Leslie, Deanna and I have found someone to pay us full time to do advocacy. When you—AASA’s members—do advocacy, it is in addition to your day-time job of running a school system. A large part of our job is to support AASA members in their advocacy efforts and it is an explicit benefit of belonging to both AASA and your state superintendent association to have support for advocacy.
Tying back to an idea we outlined in the October edition of School Administrator, advocacy can be as quick as 15 minutes a month (5 minutes a week). Peruse the full issue, or read the feature article on the role of superintendent as advocate. Which brings me to the 2017 advocacy challenge.
Each month of this year, our team will identify a topic or two—whether driven by the AASA legislative agenda or by current goings on with Congress or the administration—and provide advocacy support. That is, we’ll give a bit of quick background on the topic, explain the relevant policy proposals and implications, and then share a few talking points that you can use to weigh in with your Congressional delegation (your Representative and both your Senators). You can take that information to craft your monthly outreach—contacting one office per week—to your Congressional delegation, to relay the policy priorities in the context of what it means for your schools and the students you serve.
We stand by ready to answer any questions you may have. Do you not know the name or email address of the education staffer in your Senator’s office? We can provide that for you. Are you interested in seeing who from your state serves on certain House or Senate committees? Did your Congress member reach out with a different question, and you’d like information about that? We can get that to you.
We are using the February advocacy challenge to make an introduction and extend an invite. Congress is adjourned for recess at regular intervals, meaning they will be in their home districts frequently. Recess is an opportune time to invite your elected officials (and/or their education staffers) to see your schools in action. Highlight your programs that are excelling (After school? English Learner support? Early education? Credit Recovery?). Give examples where you could do more with better federal support (High class room sizes? Teacher shortages? Limited opportunity for CTE?). Facilitate a community conversation with stakeholders about ESSA (or education technology, or school nutrition, or rural education).
It is an introductory round this first month, and will be more substantive and policy-specific next month.
Thank you, in advance, for your continued advocacy efforts and support for AASA advocacy. And, as always let us know if you need anything.
Our MASA/MASE Spring Conference is being held on Thursday and Friday, March 9-10. We will meet at the Minneapolis Marriott Northwest. Details are available on the MASA web site, www.mnasa.org. The MASA Foundation is also running a fundraising in concert with this event. There wis a regional contest to see which of our regions makes the most dollar donations to the Foundation. Any amount of donation is greatly appreciated. The winning region will receive $400 in professional development support and the second place region will receive $200 of professional development support fort next year. You can contribute on our web site. You do not need to attend the conference to make a donation. You will also be able to contribute to the Foundation at the conference. Please keep in mind that the Foundation sponsors our Professional Assistance Team, co-sponsors ur Mentor/Mentee Program and provides scholarship for our members to attend professional development activities.
I know it’s winter, but planning has already begun for the 2017 ESSA Implementation Conference (formerly the MDE Back to School Conference). The conference will be held on Tuesday and Wednesday, August 8-9 at the Minneapolis Marriott Northwest. We encourage you to consider bringing a team to the conference.
As always, please contact me if I can be of assistance, 651.319.1211!
In this edition of Take 5, Gary reminds AASA members to sign-up for the MN State Breakfast at the AASA National Conference in New Orleans and provides a run-down on the upcoming MASA/MASE Spring Conference.
Governor Dayton is seeking to increase E-12 funding by approximately $609 million in the next biennium. If you compare the 2017 MASA Legislative platform to the Governor’s request, you will note that a number of our priorities are contained within the Governor’s budget. For that, we are grateful to Governor Dayton. We will not hear from the House or Senate on their initial budget proposals until the February Forecast is out and targets have been established for the various finance committees. In the meantime, we will continue to advocate for our platform.
As we move forward your voice will be very important in carrying the MASA message forward. I look forward to seeing many of you at the Capitol in the coming months!
Thanks for all that you every day for the students in Minnesota!
The Advocate, January 2017
Assistant Director, Policy and Advocacy
AASA, The School Superintendents Association
On January 11, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a special education case called Endrew v. Douglas County School District. The case focuses on what level of educational “benefit” a school must offer students with disabilities under IDEA.
For the first time in its 150-plus year history, AASA has chosen to author our own amicus brief for the Supreme Court given the high stakes for school districts if the Court rules in favor of the petitioner (Endrew) and not the respondent (Douglas County School District).
Why are we doing this? If the petitioners prevail, even schools that meticulously abide by IDEA’s extensive procedural requirements would have to be prepared to justify that every student’s IEP is reasonably calculated to provide a “meaningful” or “substantial” educational benefit. Not only would this standard be totally impractical and counter-productive, it would also go against Congressional intent since Congress has never even contemplated redefining the standard set by the courts under Rowley of “some educational benefit” despite several recent reauthorizations.
The background on the Endrew case is as follows: Endrew (“Drew”) is a former student in the Douglas County School District who has been diagnosed with autism. The school district provided Drew with special education and related services under a series of IEPs over several years. After a difficult fourth-grade year, Drew’s parents rejected his proposed fifth-grade IEP and enrolled him in a private school that specializes in educating children with autism.
Drew’s parents then sought reimbursement from the district for his private school tuition on the grounds that he had been denied a free appropriate public education (FAPE). An administrative law judge concluded that Drew’s parents were not entitled to reimbursement because the proposed IEP was procedurally sound and reasonably calculated to provide some educational benefit.
A federal district court upheld that determination. On appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, Drew’s parents argued that his IEP had been assessed under the wrong standard. In their view, instead of asking whether the IEP was calculated to provide “some” benefit, the administrative law judge and the district court should have required that it provide a “meaningful” benefit. The Tenth Circuit disagreed. It concluded that it was bound by the Supreme Court’s decision in Board of Education of Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176 (1982), which held that an IEP need offer only “some educational benefit.”
The Obama Administration has weighed in on the case in favor of the petitioner (Endrew) as have numerous disability rights organizations and a few education organizations Can you list an example? The Administration posits that if the current standard, “some educational benefit,” were to remain in place then school districts would be free to offer students with disabilities services for only a few months of the year to demonstrate they are making some progress educationally. This is a ridiculous example and one that shows how little the government itself understands about IDEA and its requirements to provide services for students continually (unless they no longer qualify for the service or special education). It also shows how little faith this Administration has in special education professionals and school leaders’ personal desire to ensure students with disabilities achieve academically regardless of a statutory or judicial standard for educational benefit.
Aside from the fact that the Court has no basis for creating a new standard, which we detail in our brief substantially, there is no ‘workable’ standard beyond the current one, which is “some educational benefit.” The Government and the Petitioner would require courts to evaluate the level of education an IEP is designed to provide—either to assess whether it would be substantially equivalent to that afforded other children or to assess whether it would reflect significant progress for that particular child. A court cannot appropriately evaluate the level of education an IEP would provide without judging the quality of educational methods and services: How good are the teachers? How effective are their methods? What difference would smaller class sizes make? Would limited dollars be better spent elsewhere? This kind of second-guessing by courts and the level of scrutiny required in every due process case would lead to outrageous hearing lengths as well as completely subjective decisions by individuals who are not education experts by any stretch.
What does that mean practically speaking? Districts will be in a constant cycle of evaluating and re-evaluating students to ensure they are making “enough” progress, an increased focus on IDEA paperwork and compliance, and greater likelihoods of settlements with parents to avoid even more costly and lengthy litigation. The financial, practical and administrative implications for districts if the Court rules in favor of the petitioner cannot be understated. AASA will attend the hearing on January 11 and will share any relevant insights or summaries on the Leading Edge blog. The Court is expected to rule in late Spring. We will keep you informed of the decision.
Happy New Year and welcome back to the second half of the 2016-17 school year. I hope you enjoyed a restful and fun holiday break. I don’t know whether or not you are in the “new year’s resolutions” camp — sometimes I think school leaders are so accustomed to identifying goals and strategies to meet them that January 1 resolutions may be a little redundant. But as you look forward, I wish you success in your personal and professional objectives for 2017.
At our Spring Conference this year (March 9-10 at the Marriott Minneapolis Northwest), we will have the opportunity to hear from a dynamic and inspiring speaker who epitomizes the ability of a leader taking small opportunities to create great and positive change. Derreck Kayongo and his family fled a civil war in Uganda and settled in the United States when he was just ten years old. Now a successful entrepreneur, Mr. Kayongo is a renowned expert in environmental sustainability and global health. He is the founder of the Global Soap Project, which takes donated, melted, purified and reprocessed hotel soap and redistributes it to vulnerable populations around the world. He is also the CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which benefits from his leadership strength and experiences. He is a charming and inspiring speaker and you can see a video of one of his presentations, “Simple Solutions for Colossal Problems,” here. So mark your calendars and plan to attend the Spring Conference.
The New Year has also brought us the beginning of the 2017 Legislative Session. We know this year’s session will be a tough one, but we pledge to be there representing the interests of students and school districts amid the predictable cacophony. A reminder that MASA’s platform and other legislative resources are available on the MASA web site. I’ll call your attention particularly to the 2017 Legislative Contact Plan and ask that you participate. Your voice at home and in Saint Paul is crucial to legislative success on behalf of our students.
One final note this week: We’d like to draw your attention to a new, exciting feature of our MASA web site. Blog It is a list of links to our members’ blogs — one-stop shopping to see what your fellow MASA members are communicating about via their blog posts. If YOU would like a link to your blog, simply send the name of your blog and its URL to Jeanna Vohnoutka (email@example.com) and she will post it on the Blog It page.
As always, feel free to contact me any time. My cell phone number is: (651) 319-1211. Thank you for all you do for students and your colleagues and communities. Have a great week!