In this edition of Take 5, Gary provides an a short update on the 2017 legislative session and reminds members about the upcoming 2017 MASA/MASE Spring Conference!
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!
As we move towards the end of another calendar year, I want to sincerely THANK you for your participation in MASA. The strength of our organization lies within each of our members. The students and communities within Minnesota are so very fortunate to have you working on their behalf. I greatly appreciate your involvement in MASA. I pledge that we will continue to strive towards meeting your leadership needs. As always, please contact me if I can be of service to you.
My hope for you in 2017 is that your world is full of good health, peace and prosperity!
In this edition of Take 5, Gary provides an update on MASA’s Legislative Contact Plan and the Higher Learning Commission’s approval of the concurrent enrollment program deadline extension request by the Minnesota State.
Assistant Director, Policy and Advocacy
AASA, The School Superintendents Association
Preparing for a new Congress and Administration
Washington, D.C. is in a bit of a funk. As the 114th Congress draws to a close, Congress is set to leave town in a few days without fully completing its federal budgeting process (yet again). There is a sense of bewilderment by lobbyists, congressional and agency staff and even members of Congress about what kind of political environment they will face when they return in January.
As a staunchly non-partisan organization, AASA is in many ways lucky compared to other key education groups. We have great relationships on both sides of the aisle. We know that our members depend on us to advance the best policies possible for students and school systems regardless of who thinks of them. This allows our team to be flexible, pragmatic, aggressive and independent in our defense of the public policy interests of superintendents.
While this election was devoid of much serious conversation about education policy, now that we know we are working with President-elect Trump, we are determined to make it a meaningful relationship. We didn’t hide our displeasure with the Obama Administration’s Race-to-the-Top initiative, or conditional ESEA waivers or expansion of the Civil Rights data collection. The Department knew what we thought and they chose to do things differently than we would have liked, which is their prerogative. Similarly, we will call it like we see it with the Trump Administration. And, as we look ahead to next year and try and crystalize what Trump may want to do in the K-12 education space, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
On the one hand, one of the most controversial fiscal regulations on school districts ever proposed governing the distribution of state and local Title I dollars is likely to disappear (see supplement not supplant call-to-action). We could also see a less aggressive role for the Office of Civil Rights under a Trump Administration and a reduction in data collection requirements on districts and proactive investigations. We could also see potential changes to regulations at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor, and related to the Affordable Care Act. These changes will likely be wins for AASA members, from a policy point of view.
On the other hand, we will likely find ourselves spending significant time and energy fighting draconian cuts to education. With control of both chambers, Republicans could try and lift spending caps on defense at the expense of non-defense discretionary spending, of which education is included. This would mean that we could see reductions in our key federal education funding streams at a critical time.
Medicaid reform is also a concern we will be tracking. Our policy team works closely with our Children’s Department to incentivize greater healthcare coverage for students. The untimely need to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coupled with the possibility that fewer Medicaid-eligible students will receive coverage if Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act is repealed should be of great concern to school leaders.
While Trump disagrees with members of his own party about spending sometimes, there’s a possibility that there could be broad support for finding and funneling “new” dollars toward school choice. While Trump’s $20 billion-dollar school choice plan is short on details, most Beltway insiders do not believe that attempts to make Title I dollars portable to private schools will go far next Congress. The majority of the Congress was re-elected and they are proud to see the implementation of ESSA move forward and know that Title I portability would fundamentally alter successful enactment of the most heralded legislative accomplishments in recent memory. However, attempts to voucherize IDEA funding, create a federal tuition tax-credit system, or expand the floundering D.C. voucher program are all strong possibilities. There is also some speculation that Trump could try to use the presidential pulpit to get states to repurpose state dollars.
As we consider the Trump policies we probably will not like, there is comfort in knowing that we still have the same Chairman and Ranking Member on the Senate Education Committee: U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) Patty Murray (D-Wash.) The thin GOP majority in the Senate and the continuation of the 60-vote threshold make it more likely that reasonable, bipartisan policy and funding measures prevail in that chamber. In contrast, the House Education Committee will be led by a known firebrand, U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who has been more focused on higher education policy than K-12.
While AASA would have preferred a nominee to lead the Department of Education with not only experience within education, but a track record reflecting support for public schools, we will try and build a strong working relationship with Betsy DeVos and her team, and continue to honestly and actively represent the views of school leaders in Washington, D.C. To the extent that education policy is on the menu, we will be at the table.
The MASA Board of Directors met on December 7. We had a very good meeting. Following are a few of the agenda items the Board addressed. The Board heard a report from the independent auditor regarding the financial dealing of MASA in the 2015-2016 school year. The association continues to be in a strong financial position. The Board approved the 2017 MASA Legislative Platform. Copies of the platform will be distributed to all members prior to the end of December. Thanks to the members of the Legislative Committee for their work on the platform. The legislative session begins on January 3.
The Board discussed the results of the MSHSL election to modify the MSHSL Constitution to include two permanent seats for superintendents. As you may know, the vote failed as a result of an insufficient number of ballots being returned. The Board directed me to seek clarification from the MSHSL on a few issues regarding the election. The Board heard a report from the American Heart Association regarding programs that can be conducted in your schools to support good student and staff health. We will provide additional information on this topic over the coming months. I greatly appreciate the dedication shown by our Board members!
As we move into December, I know many of you have already had to make decisions on school closings as a result of bad weather. I can tell you that I don’t miss those decisions! I always felt that was one of the most difficult decisions that I needed to make. Regardless of the decision, many would think that the wrong choice had been made. I always tried to remember that I was making a decision based on what I felt was in the best interest of our students and staff. I would consult with our local municipalities and other superintendents in the area, and we would collectively hope that our prognostications of our unpredictable Minnesota weather would be accurate!
MASA now provides support from the National Weather Service, and we hope that it will assist you in making your decisions. StormReady™ is an online resource that provides specific weather data by zip code. The weather in your district might be very different than it is a few miles away and this resource can help pinpoint where the worst winter weather will land. We are grateful to John Schultz, Superintendent, Hopkins Public Schools; Dan Luna, Meteorologist-in Charge for the National Weather Service in the Twin Cities; and John Wetter, Technical Services Manager and Meteorologist, Hopkins Public Schools, for their leadership in bringing this resource to our members.
To use StormReady™, simply click on the link on the MASA home page and choose ‘current forecast” in the sidebar. Then enter your zip code and you will receive the latest info from the National Weather Service for your specific zip code.
Best of luck as we “enjoy” winter in Minnesota!
In this edition of Take 5, Gary provides an update on the MASA Committees, 2017 Legislative Contact Plan, MASA Awards and Board of Directors Nominations, and wishes everyone a safe and restful Thanksgiving holiday!
Noelle Ellerson Ng
Associate Executive Director, Policy and Advocacy
AASA, The School Superintendents Association
After months of endless campaigning, the 2016 elections came to a close. This month’s Advocate provides a quick overview of where we stand and what it will mean for federal education policy decisions. Please note that votes are still being tallied and this information will change, particularly as (hopefully) more information becomes available about President-elect Trump’s education platform.
Two good reads:
The 2016 election is finally over. It’s time for our country, state and local communities to come together for the benefit of all. Within the education world, we will find out in the coming months what a Trump presidency will mean to E-12 education. There are some that believe that mandates will be pulled back from the federal level. An important question is, what does the Trump presidency mean for the implementation of ESSA? Time will tell!
Within the state of Minnesota the Senate and House will now be controlled by the Republicans. This will create a new dynamic for the 2017 legislative session. We look forward to working with the legislature and Governor to allocate additional resources that will benefit the students within our state.
Congratulations to those that passed bond or levy questions! I know the work that goes into this type of election. For those who did not gain community support, I know that you realize that your school community is looking to you for continued guidance and leadership as you navigate the challenges associated with your issues that were not supported. As always, please know that at MASA we are here to support you!
Please contact me at 651.319.1211 if I can be of service to you!
In this edition of Take 5, Gary provides an update on the most recent MASA committee meetings, details the upcoming legislative session, previews the Fall Instructional Leadership Conference, and reminds everyone to get out and vote on November 8!
The 2016 Fall Instructional Leadership Conference will be held Wednesday late afternoon - Friday noon, November 16-18 at Cragun’s in Brainerd. The theme this year is "Leading Learning ~ New Thinking in Instructional Leadership”. This conference is a great opportunity to bring a team from your district and learn in a collaborative environment. Detailed information regarding the conference agenda is available at www.mnasa.org. Please contact Mia or me if you have questions!
AASA, The School Superintendents Association
EPA and School Infrastructure Issues
A new addition to AASA’s active lobbying portfolio is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other facility-related issues. One recent issue regards florescent light ballasts containing Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). This is a carcinogenic chemical that was used until 1979 as a fire retardant in light ballasts and has mostly been removed through routine maintenance and upgrades.
The EPA regulations would require all schools remove any remaining PCB-containing ballasts within two or four years, with no financial assistance. Schools are already on track to remove these ballasts and will have to in order to fit new light bulb regulations.
AASA recently joined a coalition of education and local governance associations to write a letter in response to this proposed rule. The letter argues that the proposed rule is based on insufficient data, the EPA underestimates the costs for PCB removal in schools, the proposed rule is duplicative of other federal efforts and the proposed timeline for the rule’s implementation is unworkable.
A similar issue has come to light after the discovery of lead in the water supply in Flint, Mich., Newark, N.J. and other communities. Under the current Lead and Copper rule, public water utilities are required to test a sample of homes they serve, but are not required to test schools. Many superintendents currently pay for this testing themselves.
The U.S. Senate recently passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), and Sen. Cory Booker tried to include an amendment that would require the water utilities to test a sample of schools they serve. The amendment also introduced a grant program to pay for remediation of lead issues in some schools. The amendment was not submitted in time and was not included in the final bill. WRDA does include one section regarding lead in school water. It establishes a grant program for states to help LEAs and child care facilities pay for water testing. The grant program is authorized at $20 million over five years, though that is unlikely to be fully appropriated.
Wow! I woke up this morning and it was 27 degrees. The trees are turning and their is a crispness in the air. Parts of northern Minnesota saw a bit of snow. Yes, my friends, fall is upon us and winter is letting us now that it is on the way. As the seasons come and go, school leaders have the challenge of working with their staff and community to maintain a focus on the improvement of student achievement. Regardless of the temperature outside or the condition of the roads you encounter, your leadership journey must be one that is ready to take on the challenges that occur from time to time. With continued passion and vision you will succeed in keeping the focus on your students.
Thank you for what you do every single day!
- Gary A.