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Federal Update March 27, 2013
posted by: Cindy Omlin | March 27, 2013, 09:29 PM   

Called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, this law is designed to cut assistance from states that have reduced their special education budget, and awards it to states that are in compliance with federal guidelines.

The mandate was also tweaked to include a clause saying that funding will not be permanently reduced, but will be restored as soon as states are in compliance with federal regulations. The addition to this mandate has eased the stress of several states, like South Carolina and Kansas, who have already lost funding.

"Congress, led by the South Carolina federal delegation, has heard my plea for common sense regarding the federal government's penalty imposed on South Carolina's children,"said Mick Zais, the state chief in South Carolina. "Today's action repeals the absurd perpetual penalty that withheld $36,202,909 in funds used to provide services to students with disabilities. This is a victory for students with disabilities in South Carolina and across the nation."

Nancy Reder, the deputy executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, is pleased with how things turned out too. "It's absolutely a good compromise," she said in an interview. Despite deep budget cuts, congressional leaders still maintain that spending for special education should not be compromised.

California Pursues Different Type of NCLB Waiver

While the state of California's petition for a No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver was denied by the Federal Department of Education, nine California school districts, called CORE (California Office to Reform Education) have petitioned for district-specific waivers. These first-of-their kind waivers are supported by State Education Chief Tom Torlakson and School Board President Michael Kirst and would promise regulatory relief under current NCLB regulations.

However, California local leaders also express reservations about how such a waiver would work, including the role of the state in monitoring these districts, whether other districts will be able to join in, and the process used by federal officials to approve the request.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is approving of CORE's sweeping reform ideas, including pay for performance and other teacher quality measures. A February 28th letter showed a serious effort on the part of the federal government to review the application.

The Department of Education's decision regarding this waiver approval will set a precedent for state's do-it-your-own-way waiver requests from here on out.

Click here to read more about the NCLB waiver process.

States Question the Nuances of Sequestration Cuts

Following inaction by the federal government, sequestration, or automatic cuts to the federal budget are being felt by states and districts across the country. As states cope with 5% cuts to education programs, many advocates are requesting more flexibility with the money that remains.

Certain states have asked for permission to change to how Title I funds are spent; However, Federal Department of Education officials have denied requests to amend Title I spending laws. Other states have requested waivers from rules that govern "carry over" 15% of Title I funds to the next year. This waiver would allow districts to build up a bit of reserve in order to cope with budget cuts in the coming school year. The Department of Education said they would consider this request in the coming months.

Another question that remains is if states will be able to set aside 4% of Title I funding for school improvement activities. While currently states often participate in this practice, it could be tough after the spending is cut across the board. Local officials content that without flexibility, it will be extremely difficult for them to finance state-level technical assistance and support for school improvement activities.

Click here to read North Carolina Superintendent June Atkinson's testimony about sequestration.

Lawmakers Focus on School Choice

With school choice policies becoming increasingly popular among educators and parents, it is no surprise that Congress is also becoming more involved. Republican Majority Leader Congressman Eric Cantor recently made a speech to the American Enterprise Institute where he laid out a vision for federal support of these programs.

After traveling to New Orleans to meet with students participating in a opportunity scholarship program, Congressman Cantor spoke to a crowd at Harvard University saying, "A competitive environment, where the schools compete for the children rather than the other way around, would give every child from the inner city of Boston or New York to the streets of Los Angeles, an equal chance at a greater destiny." He continued, "One of my priorities this Congress will be to move heaven and earth to fix our education system for the most vulnerable. Doing so will give America the best chance of protecting tomorrow for a generation of smart and capable young people."

As House Majority Leader, Cantor decides when bills go to the floor of the House. He's already made time for job training legislation and could further bolster his credentials as an education lawmaker by helping pave the way on the House floor for some K-12 bills.

Similarly, Congressman John Kline (R-MN), the chairman of the House Education Committee, has floated the idea of having some Title I money follow kids. Also, on the Senate side, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced a bill that would allow corporations and private donors to use a new tax credit to give money to organizations that give scholarship to students that want to attend charter or parochial schools.

The congressional support of school choice continues to grow, as it continues to prove effective in states across the country.

Originally posted by Ruthie at AAE.

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