Heads up – Congress is discussing moving “idle” ARRA funds from Title 1 and IDEA to the general Stabilization Fund by the end of July. The definition of “idle” is unclear – although it would appear to be any funds that are not obligated regardless of whether they have been distributed to districts.
An article in Politico last week revealed that the House is maneuvering to find more funds for teacher pay – but is running into resistance. A more detailed follow up piece in Ed Money Watch reviewed how this might actually work.
“As of May 28, 2010, all IDEA funds had been obligated to states. The remaining unobligated ARRA funds include $1.4 billion for Title I, about $1.4 billion for Pell Grants, $250 million in Statewide Data Systems Funds, about $150 million in Teacher Incentive Grant Funds, and $38 million for Vocational and Rehabilitative Services. This total amount of unobligated funds, around $3.2 billion, doesn’t come close to the $23 billion requested for these purposes in previous version of House and Senate legislation.
To make up the rest of the difference, any legislation would have to redirect already obligated (but not outlaid) ARRA funds into a fund specifically meant for teacher salaries and benefits. Not including SFSF, about $21.9 billion in ARRA education funding has yet to be outlaid, including roughly $8 billion in both IDEA and Title I. This amount is much closer to the $23 billion that was requested for the Education Jobs Fund by the House and Senate.”
Essentially they may rewrite the rules more than halfway through the program.
The goals are laudable – making sure that we retain as many teachers as possible in very tough times. The original proposal called for $23 billion in additional funding specifically to help states and districts pay teachers in the coming year. This appears to have been scaled back to $10 billion – but even that is problematic given the climate in Congress.
Unfortunately this not only affects the students with the greatest needs it also penalizes schools and districts who have been using the full amount of time allotted in ARRA to plan carefully before acting.
There are no easy answers here – the budget crises at the state level are staggering. Kids are going to show to school in September ready to learn whether the economy is doing well or not.
Please encourage your congressional delegations to support the full second round of stimulus funding for education. Let them know that rewriting the rules halfway through isn’t acceptable and that both teachers and students with special needs need our support.
The biggest message was his presence. It left no doubt about how seriously Obama and he feel about improving the lives of students with disabilities. This was welcome because much of the work they have done in this area so far has not been particularly visible.
He laid out a vision for the Administration’s education legislative priorities and the central role that serving people with disabilities will play in ESEA (aka NCLB). The linkages between ESEA and IDEA that were created during the era of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) will also be strengthened and improved.
What follows is a recap of the talk and some thoughts on what this means for the SPED community.
Special Education Is The Civil Rights Issue of Our Generation
He opened by observing that Obama and he believe every child deserves a world-class education. While almost everyone says this, a gap still exists between our aspirations and reality. Subtle prejudices and roadblocks still get in the way of people with special needs.
Most of the talk teed up the idea that we have a historic opportunity to full this promise for all students with the upcoming ESEA and IDEA reauthorizations.
The argument was initially framed around global competitiveness. America simply does not have expendable students if we are going to prosper in an increasingly globalized world.
But he closed this part of the speech by saying that serving students isn’t just about economics. It is a moral issue. In fact he called it “the civil rights issue of our generation.”
He hammered this point home by talking about how the civil rights battles of the 60’s for racial equality paved the way for IDEA in the mid-seventies for people with disabilities. He made a strong statement about how he and Obama are committed to making this promise a reality.
Personally I really appreciated his stand on the role of education in helping people live more fulfilling lives – regardless of the economics. I’m weary of every education policy discussion devolving into how schools are job readiness factories. Of course they are – but they are so much more than that.
Progress Not Perfection
Next he focused on what is working. We have made great strides in the 35 years since IDEA was enacted in making sure a disability shouldn’t stop any child from attending school and pursuing a career.
Students with special needs are no longer turned away at the door, housed in broom closets, or bused to a distant site. Today the 6 million students served by IDEA spend 80% of their time in inclusion classrooms and 95% are in a neighborhood schools.
He told a couple of heartwarming stories of students with special needs learning alongside their peers, eating lunch with them, making friends with them, and demonstrating real leadership in their schools. That society is willing to make this investment sends the message that disabilities alone do not define our work or our worth as human beings. Disabilities are not destiny.
He labeled all these successes are civil rights victories.
First Stop – Enforcement
Duncan at this point pointed out that will all the progress we still have not fulfilled the full promise of IDEA. The data shows us we are getting better – but we must get better faster.
By just about every measure students with disabilities are better educated than just a generation ago. The graduation rate, post secondary enrollment rate, and employment opportunities are increasing but they are all still too low. Students are leaving schools without the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.
The Obama Administration intends to work with schools, districts, and states to enforce existing laws. While this was a relatively passing remark it does mark a change in emphasis from prior administrations. Generally speaking enforcement of existing statutes has gotten short shrift over the past couple of decades (the IRS audit budget was cut dramatically while the economy grew).
For publishers who help districts meet their obligations under IDEA and ADA a renewed emphasis on enforcement means your customers will be open to solutions that help them meet both the spirit and the letter of the law.
ESEA Reauthorization Linked To IDEA
Making ESEA a building block for the subsequent IDEA reauthorization isn’t a new concept. Better integration began with NCLB. But it appears that Obama intends to create a much tighter link between the two, in fact Duncan specifically called it “one seamless approach.”
The administration also isn’t going to scrap NCLB. They want to build on what worked, but fix the things that didn’t. Much of this has been reported elsewhere.
What hasn’t gotten much press is that Special Education will be included in ALL aspects of ESEA. This is great news for the community of educators, professionals, parents, and publishers who serve this population. I believe part of why Duncan was willing to make the time to be in Nashville was simply to drive this point home.
There were three areas that he specifically called out with regard to Special Education – accountability, assessment, and teacher quality.
SPED will fully participate in ESEA’s accountability systems. NCLB did this right by requiring the participation of all students. This highlighted achievement gaps and forced districts to address populations that were underserved.
But NCLB’s assessment regime had a central flaw – it failed to measure and reward growth. From Duncan’s perspective we shouldn’t label solid progress towards goals as failure. “It is wrong, inaccurate, and demoralizing.” A school that progresses from 2 grade levels behind to 1 level behind has NOT failed – but under NCLB it has been labeled as such. He quipped that “NCLB has 50 ways to fail, very few to succeed.”
The new accountability system will be based mostly on student growth and will recognize schools that show meaningful gains. The law will continue to require teaching students with disabilities and schools will also have to improve the performance of the highest achieving students. The focus on subpopulations isn’t going away.
The vast majority of schools will also have more flexibility to implement locally designed ideas to reach the benchmarks. He believes the best ideas come from the local level.
This does not mean that schools with chronic gaps and poor performance get a pass. The school closure in Central Falls RI in February makes clear that Obama backs strong measures where needed.
In an interesting twist this accountability will also escalate to the district level. District level gaps in progress may not be apparent at the school level.
Assessment Grant Competition
In order for this to happen Duncan recognizes that states will have to significantly improve existing assessments – we must move beyond filling the bubble tests.
In the ESEA blueprint and Race to the Top (RTTT) they are putting investments in building the next generation of assessments. He specifically cited including technology to measure a range of skills that have been difficult to measure.
I think more importantly there will be an emphasis on formative assessments which provide real time feedback to improve teaching and learning.
Assessment reform is especially important for special education. The majority of SPED students take the regular state tests and a few can take alternate assessments. Building assessments that are both accessible and deliver meaningful information requires specialized expertise. The DOE will run a competition to improve special education testing tools.
Students with low incidence disabilities require the same quality of assessments but the development of those tools doesn’t make commercial sense given the size of the sub-groups. It makes enormous educational and civil rights sense – so we were pleased to see the government step in to make this possible. We were also excited to see that it will be run as a competition – allowing multiple approaches which will dramatically increase our odds of finding what works.
The last area he talked about is recognizing “the uniquely transformative power of good teachers.” The Obama Administration is investing $4 billion in recruiting, training, and retaining teachers. They are going to have a specific focus on high needs areas – which includes SPED.
This is great news because the turnover in Special Ed is so high. The maturity and classroom judgment that come from experience are at a real premium. Recruiting and rewarding teachers who choose this path is something everyone in the special needs community should celebrate.
Saving Education Jobs – Foundation for Reform
A final point. Secretary Duncan echoed his remarks to Congress last week about the pending catastrophe in teacher employment due to plunging state budgets. He made the point that education reform and saving education jobs go hand in hand. At this time we cannot afford to take a step backwards.
I commented on this last week and strongly encourage publishers to get involved in supporting this effort with whatever influence you have or can create in Washington.
It was really nice to see the Administration make a concerted effort to reach out to the professionals who serve students with special needs. It sent a strong message that the progress we have made in recently will not be lost, and in fact should be accelerated as education policy evolves in the next several years.
Federal ARRA stimulus funding has been keeping schools around the country on life support for the past year. Despite significant layoffs around the country it headed off catastrophe in many states. That era is coming to an end later this year or early next year.
It was heartening to see Secretary Duncan take up the cause in a statement issued today. Unless Congress acts and provides a second round the deteriorating tax climate at the state and local level is going to cause massive disruption to the education system in 2011 and beyond.
“We are gravely concerned that the kind of state and local budget threats our schools face today will put our hard-earned reforms at risk,” he stated. “Every day brings reports of layoffs, program cuts, class time reductions, and class size increases.” Potentially hundreds of thousands of educators and other personnel could be laid off if action is not taken quickly to help states and districts cover shortfalls...Literally, tens of millions of students will experience budget cuts in one way or another.” Moreover, schools, districts and states that are working so hard to improve—will see their reforms undermined by these budget problems.
The Secretary urged members to consider another round of emergency support for America’s schools, similar to the aid provided to states through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). “If we do not help avert this state and local budget crisis,” he warned, “we could impede reform and fail another generation of children.” (emphasis added)
Richard Sims, Chief Economist at the NEA, has spoken clearly on the connection between property values and state and local tax receipts. It takes three years for the funding impact from a change in home values to affect school budgets. In other words – we are just starting to see the most serious impact from the decline that started in 2007. If prices bottom out this summer – which is iffy given a potential wave of foreclosures ahead due to ARMs resetting – it will be 2014 before budgets START to recover.
States can not engage in deficit spending and will balance their budgets on the back of massive teacher layoffs, school closures, etc. In most states education is the single biggest line item and accounts for 50% of the budget. While it is always the last thing Governors want to cut they simply won’t have an option in the years to come.
The only cavalry that can save the day here is the Federal Government stepping in with additional deficit spending to prop up education budgets.
Is the political will there to step and engage in additional deficit spending?
Will advocates for privatization use this as a political opportunity to destroy public education? Many of these folks are also strongly anti-deficit.
Will reform efforts be set back decades by draconian cuts?
These are not idle questions as we head into 2011-2014. This battle will largely be fought in the next 12 months and those of us who serve schools should get shoulder to shoulder with any educational association we have a stake in supporting. Join in this fight!
We don’t do this often, however I would like to link you to a post by our President and CEO, Lee Wilson. Lee has been blogging forever (since 2002) and shares his thoughts on good (and bad) marketing as well as expert insight on the education industry.
In his post, Lee talks about the effect the ARRA has had on publishers of products for students with special needs vs. those who publish materials for mainstream students. Large corporation or small, special education or regular, you’ll want to read his insights.
In our continuing effort to foster meaningful dialogue about students with special needs and how the ARRA is helping them, we invite comment and debate on the issues. We will continue to seek out and share information and resources to support the community we serve.