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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The ASCA Legislative Update - January 16, 2007

A weekly report of public policy issues in American Education from ASCA

January 16, 2007

Executive Summary:

Budget and Appropriations Update

Secretary Spellings Speaks at the Chamber of Commerce New America Foundation Hosts Event to Unveil National Standards Bill Center for American Progress Explores Accountability Issues In Brief New Publications In the News

1. Budget and Appropriations Update

The 110th Congress was hard at work last week, making good on their promise to the American people to work together both longer and harder on their behalf. While there was not a great deal of bi-partisanship evident, a few matters were taken up that got the support of both parties. First in the House was a bill to increase the minimum wage for the first time in ten years. Second was a bill to expand federal support for Stem Cell Research.

Though the bill was adopted, it lacked the votes necessary to sustain a pretty much guaranteed veto from the President. The House also completed action on an ethics and lobby reform package that was the first order of business for the Senate last week.

A dominant issue in lobby reform is addressing public disgust for a practice known as earmarking-most vividly exemplified by the so-called "bridge to

nowhere" funding for Alaska. Not only did the House pass rules that put

sunshine on the earmarking process, calling on legislators to identify their own pet projects to their colleagues, but the definition of an earmark was greatly expanded. Earmarks now cover any federal spending that is to a specific entity-even if the intended program has been authorized by the Congress. The true implications of this change are not yet known as this would grow the pool of so-called earmarks in federal spending exponentially.

The Senate took up their lobby and ethics reform package last Monday. They too are committed to shining a bright light on earmarking and are also considering an expansion of the definition of earmarks similar to that

adopted in the House. While Senators debated ethics on the floor,

Committees met to pass organizing resolutions and to tell the Administration exactly what they think about the President's new strategy for Iraq.

In the next few weeks action on legislation of great interest to education advocates will be taken up by Committees in the House and Senate. A continuing resolution is now being drafted to keep the government operating for the remaining months of the fiscal year. Though the current CR is not set to expire until February 15th, there is movement a foot to complete action on the resolution by January 20th. The CR contains only broad directives about the amount of money appropriated for large accounts within agencies, leaving many decisions about whom, what and how much to spend in the President's hands. It is a development that has many education advocates feeling uncertain at best.


2. Secretary Spellings Speaks at the Chamber of Commerce

To mark the fifth anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings addressed a meeting of business and education leaders at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.. She remarked at the outset that "It takes a village of businesspeople to reauthorize NCLB and reform education in this country".

Tom Donohue, President of the Chamber of Commerce, called NCLB a "good first step" toward raising the bar on public education. The business community supports the laws effort to identify persistently low-performing schools.

The driving interest of the business community is their concern about the low percentage of high school graduates attending higher education and the need for more skilled workers in the 21st century. He offered high praise for Secretary Spellings and urged the Administration to push hard to reauthorize NCLB in the coming year and to include the relevant proposals from the President's FY 2006 American Competitiveness Initiatives in that legislation.

Secretary Spellings is an unapologetic supporter of NCLB and credits the law with improving the academic achievement levels of the poorest students in the nation.

Several myths and misconceptions about NCLB need to be dispelled according to Secretary Spellings-the law does not require too much testing, it has not been under-funded, it is not too punitive, it has not forced narrowing of the curriculum and proficiency for all students by 2014 is not an unrealistic goal. Testing must occur if we are to know how to solve a problem. Funding for Title I has increased by 41% since the law's enactment. In short, the law is not perfect but its core principals are correct. Spellings acknowledged that several tough issues need to be addressed in the next iteration of the law. She and the President, for whom NCLB remains a top legislative priority in the coming year, look forward to working once again with the key House and Senate policy makers.

In concluding her remarks, the Secretary thanked the business community for their support and urged their continued involvement to help make sure the NCLB reauthorization is addressed in the first session of the 110th Congress.


3. New America Foundation Hosts Event to Unveil National Standards Bill

On January 9th, the fifth anniversary of the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act, the New America Foundation hosted an event that featured the announcement of a legislative proposal introduced by Senator Chris Dodd

(D-CT) and Representative Vern Ehlers (R-MI) that would, "create rigorous, voluntary core standards for children in grades K-12 in math and science."

The legislation, titled, "The Standards to Provide Educational Achievement for Kids (SPEAK) Act" would provide incentive grants to states to adopt standards "in an effort to ensure that all students, regardless of where they live, are taught to common, rigorous education standards." The joint press release from Senator Dodd and Representative Ehlers further notes, "Holding students to high standards will help to secure America's competitive edge in the global marketplace."

The legislation has won support from dozens of organizations, including the National Education Association, the New America Foundation, the Fordham Foundation and the Council of Great City Schools. It is remarkable that an education proposal drew endorsements from both the NEA and the Fordham Foundation. Michael Petrilli, Vice President for National Programs and Policy at the Foundation, offered remarks at the event, and conceded that some may find the organization's support of national standards seemingly at odds with its conservative views. However, he argues that support for a single high standard, and attendant accountability, with state and local flexibility on how to reach that standard, is congruent with conservative beliefs.

This bill, S. 224, was formally introduced on January 9th, and has one co-sponsor in the Senate-Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), a consistent supporter of initiatives that invest in stronger math and science education in the US. Representative Ehlers introduced the same legislation in the House, HR 325, on the same day, and is joined by Representatives Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX ) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL), who co-sponsored the measure.

Representative Ehlers said the following about the bill in his introductory


"The SPEAK Act authorizes the American Standards Incentive Fund to incentivize states to adopt excellent math and science standards. It offers an 'If You Build It, They Will Come Approach.' Let me emphasize that this bill does not establish a national curriculum or national standards.

Participation by states is strictly voluntary. I have always felt that the 'carrot' is more effective than the 'stick' in leading reform. It is my hope that all states will feel the overwhelming responsibility to bolster their state standards in science and math and will step up to the plate."

This effort will undoubtedly be joined by a number of other legislative efforts to address national standards. The larger issue will be hotly debated as the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act proceeds.

For more information on the New America Foundation event, visit


4. Center for American Progress Explores Accountability Issues

Since the release last month of test results by the National Assessment of

Educational Progress (NAEP), policymakers, education advocates and education

writers have been commenting and analyzing this data and comparing it to

state level assessment results. The question remains, however, why the

recent 2005 NAEP results for 4th and 8th graders seem to demonstrate much

smaller progress in terms of student achievement than most states are

reporting. On November 8, as part of this ongoing national conversation,

the Center for American Progress held a forum discussion titled, "Finding

Common Measurements of K-12 Effectiveness: The Case for National Standards,

Accountability and Fiscal Equity. Moderated by Cynthia G. Brown, director

of education policy, Center for American Progress, panelists included:

Kevin Carey, research and policy manager, Education Sector; Chester E. Finn,

Jr., president, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and Thomas B. Fordham

Institute; Marguerite Roza, PhD, research assistant professor, Center on

Reinventing Public Education, Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs,

University of Washington; and Amy Wilkins, executive director, Education

Reform Now.

Finn and Wilkins both made the point that the call for national academic

standards and national tests in public schools were made by Presidents

George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. In each case, these proposals were

rejected by a Congress dominated by the opposing party. It wasn't until the

current President, working in a bi-partisan manner with Congressional

leaders in the House and Senate, that mandatory accountability standards

with consequences was adopted, but No Child Left Behind left it up to states

to determine their own standards, develop their own tests but all on the

same timetable. As a result, Wilkins and Finn agreed no one should be

surprised that as a result of this "50 standards, 50 tests" strategy, we

have huge discrepancies across the states and between state and national

scores. They further argued that because the politics of Congress seem to

dictate that Republicans are wary of national standards and a national

curriculum and Democrats are wary of testing in general, that movement on

this issue will have to come outside the political sphere of Congress.

Wilkins pointed out that she believes movement around this issue may, in

fact, come from Governors citing the example of the American Diploma Project

where 13 governors are working on common high school exit standards. If

agreement can be reached on high school exit standards, it may well force

agreement looking "backwards" at the K-8 curriculum.

Carey and Roza each made provocative presentations on the ways in which

states and local school districts disperse federal funds. Carey stressed

that because there is no way to equalize the wealth among the 50 states, we

need the federal government to continue to work on a more effective revenue

policy. Specifically, he recommended that more money should be given to the

poorer states but that adjustments should be included for those states who

put more "effort" into education spending, i.e., those states who spend more

of their state funds on education. Roza's research demonstrated that school

districts spend fewer non-targeted dollars on high poverty schools due to

political influence of administrators and parents of the wealthier schools.

She also noted the impact of low teacher salaries and experience found in

high poverty schools. To rectify this inequity, she strongly recommended

that school districts need to start allocating funds based on student needs

and tackle the difficult issue of getting more experienced and better paid

teachers at high poverty schools.


5. In Brief

DeMint and Cornyn Discuss State and Local Education Authority

On Monday, the Heritage Foundation hosted an event titled "A Better Answer

for Education: Reviving State and Local Policymaking Authority" in which

Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Jim DeMint (R-SC) outlined their yet to be

introduced bill, the A+ Act of 2007. While details of the legislation are

unavailable, according to staff the purpose of the A-PLUS Act is three fold:

1) provide states maximum freedom in to implement initiatives that work in

their individual state; 2) reduce regulatory burdens associated with federal

education programs so educators can focus on teaching rather than filling

out paperwork; and 3) ensure that states are accountable to schools, parents

and the general public for advancing the academic achievement of all

students, especially disadvantaged children.

Department of Education Announces Cities for Best Practices Summer Workshops

The U.S. Department of Education has named 22 cities as sites for its annual

summer regional workshops for teachers to learn best practices from fellow

educators successful in raising student achievement. This year's co-hosts

include two federal government agencies-the National Park Service (NPS); the

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); a number of TechNet

partners, including Microsoft, EMC, AMD, Symantec, the University of Nevada,

and Motorola; as well as Target, General Motors Corp., Siemens Foundation

and MATHCOUNTS. The workshops are part of the Department's

Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative, which supports teachers in a variety of ways,

including keeping them informed about the latest strategies and research for

closing the achievement gap and helping all students meet high standards.

Each workshop will include numerous breakout sessions featuring effective

teachers and practitioners sharing strategies that have been successful in

their classrooms, schools and districts. Agendas for each workshop will be

posted at


6. New Publications

Center on Reinventing Public Education (January 2007). "Doing School Choice


Center on Education Policy (January 2007). "No Child Left Behind at Five: A

Review of Changes to State Accountability Plans."

Center for American Progress (1/8/07). "The Massachusetts Expanding

Learning Time to Support Student Success Initiative"

National Council of La Raza (2007). "Hispanic Education in the United



7. In the News

Washington Times (1/9/07). "Republicans Seek Flexible School Funds."

New York Times (1/9/07). "Democrats Push for Changes to No Child Left

Behind Law."

USA Today (1/8/07). "How Bush Education Law Has Changed Our Schools."

The Boston Globe (1/8/07). "Kennedy to Promote Extended School Days."

New York Times (1/8/07). "In Obesity Fights Many Fear Note From School."



This memorandum contains links to Internet sites for the convenience of

World Wide Web users. ASCA is not responsible for the availability or

content of these external sites, nor does ASCA endorse, warrant or guarantee

the information, services, or products described or offered at these other

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