Federal Education Laws and Local Schools

There are eight Federal Education Laws that have not been renewed for several years, yet the laws have influence on local decisions about delivering quality education for our students.

By Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Schatz

Portrait of Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey SchatzIn the January 15, 2014 edition of Education Week I read the article “Renewals of Education Laws Languish in Congress” and it spurred my thinking regarding the influence that Federal Laws have on local decisions about delivering a quality education for the students we serve.  Contingent to the process of delivering quality educational services is to some degree our co-dependence on the Federal funding we receive for many of the programs in our school District.

Currently there are eight major education laws that have not been renewed for several years.  Federal funding for these laws continues to flow depending on the whimsical cycle of Federal funding bills that even in the best of times has been sporadic.  Most Federal funding bills have been strife with conflict over budget priorities and ultimately cuts which have infamously been termed by a peculiar word absent from most lexicons: sequestration.  From a budget standpoint, it means automatic budget cuts across the board to address budget deficits.  Because of this, Fargo Public Schools was impacted this year to the tune of almost $750,000.00 in cuts from Federal revenue sources.  We adjusted and made provisions to absorb these cuts, which impacted professional development opportunities and some services for students who struggle at school.

Recently, Congress settled on a federal spending bill that thankfully will reverse the budget cuts from last summer and restore funding back to the original allocations.  So, for the time being we can breathe again as we can now, with some certainty, plan appropriately for next year.  However, this up and down funding cycle and the lack of reauthorization of major federal education programs wreaks havoc with local school district planning.  Mostly, it locks us into laws that in many cases are outdated, ineffective, and restrictive in moving forward with any kind of educational reforms.  Unfortunately, the end result is patchwork fixes which school districts are enticed to “sign on” without any guarantee of future federal support or funding.

The classic example of this inability to collaborate on a vision for education at the Federal level is the continuance of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Law.  Circumventing this law is the U.S. Department of Education’s short term NCLB waiver program and Race to the Top programs.  This short term fix developed by the U.S. Department of Education is driven by the political ideology of the party that occupies the White House.  Because of this, Congress continues to be divided on issues pertaining to education.  Luckily, the State of North Dakota chose to not sign on to the waiver program due to the lack of a longer term Federal vision for education.  So what is left is still an outdated and broken NCLB Law and a variety of short term “fix it” options.  Ultimately, we at the local level pay the price as we are judged by assessment systems fraught with analytical and statistical issues.  The complexity of these assessment systems makes it impossible for anyone to understand what the scores really mean and opens the door for inappropriate interpretations when reporting overall school performance.  Without a clear Federal vision for education, we will continue to be in a frozen state of uncertainty as our co-dependence on Federal dollars impacts education on a local level.

In Fargo, our general fund revenues from Federal resources are about 6% of our overall revenue income.  The chart below shows which programs receive federal funding:

Pie graph of Fargo Public Schools Federal Funds Revenue Budget FY2014

As you can see, several programs receive federal funds – programs that are critical to the overall success of our students.  So from a cursory look, you can see that what happens in Washington impacts us in North Dakota.

To ensure stability in future local planning, it is imperative that Congress begin a process to make Education a top priority and move forward with re-authorized programs that make sense for today’s students and schools. More importantly, is the development of a clear vision for how the U.S. Department of Education and Congress can move forward together by articulating once and for all their role in SUPPORTING schools rather than dictating from afar policies that make no sense for locally-run school districts.  Following is a list of programs that are up for reauthorization at the Federal level.

Up for Renewal
Federal laws that underlie high-profile, long-standing education programs remain up for reauthorization in Congress—and in many cases are long overdue for a rewrite.

Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act
What it does: Governs vocational education programs and is the largest federal program for high schools.
Where it stands: Last renewed in 2006. House education committee has held public hearings on the issue.

Child Care and Development Block Grant Act
What it does: Governs major child-care grants. •
Where it stands: Last renewed in 1996. Senate education committee unanimously approved a bipartisan reauthorization last summer. It is awaiting floor action. No action in the House so far.

Education Sciences Reform Act
What it does: Governs the Institute of Education Sciences.
Where it stands: Last renewed in 2002. House education committee has held hearings on the issue.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act
What it does: Governs Title I and other key K – 12 education programs. Most recent iteration is the No Child Left Behind Act.
Where it stands: Last renewed in 2002. In July, the House passed a reauthorization that received only GOP support. The Senate education committee approved its own bill to renew the law in June. It received only Democratic support.

Head Start Act
What it does: Governs a nearly $8 billion program that offers early-childhood education services to low-income families.
Where it stands: Last renewed in 2007. Neither the House nor Senate has held hearings on reauthorization in this Congress, but Democratic leaders on the House and Senate education committees have introduced a bipartisan bill that would expand preschool to more 4-year-olds.

Higher Education Act
What it does: Governs teacher education programs, student financial aid and college-access programs.
Where it stands: Last renewed in 2008. The House and Senate education committees have each held hearings on the issue.

Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA – B)
What it does: Governs special education programs.
Where it stands: Last renewed in 2004. Neither the House nor Senate education committee has held hearings on reauthorization in this Congress.

Workforce Investment Act
What it does: Governs job-training programs.
Where it stands: Last renewed in 1998. The House passed a reauthorization in March, with only two Democrats voting in favor. The Senate education committee approved a bipartisan version of the legislation in July.

 

Source: Education Week

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