Monday, August 16, 2010

$26.1 Billion Federal Jobs Bill

“The poor man’s budget is full of schemes.”

- Unknown

On August 10th, Congress approved a $26.1 billion federal jobs bill as a one-time payment to save approximately 300,000 non-federal government jobs, such as teachers, police officers, nurses, and other public workers from lay-offs.

The bill is believed to not add to the growing federal deficit because it also closes a tax loophole used by multinational corporations and reduces food stamps benefits in 2014 back to its pre-stimulus level.

I am not commenting nor will I comment on the wisdom or credibility of how this job bill does not add to the $13 trillion federal deficit.

I am not commenting nor will I comment on the election year timing of this job bill.

The legislation provides $10 billion to school districts to rehire laid-off teachers for the 2010-11 school year. The remaining $26 billion would extend for 6 months increased Medicaid payments to the states. This would free up money for states to save the jobs of laid-off police officers and other public workers.

California is expected to receive $1.2 billion and restore 16,500 teachers back to the classroom.

According to a California Department of Education news release, the funds will be for the 2010-11 school year to retain, recall, or rehire former employees and to hire new employees to provide early childhood, elementary, or secondary educational services.

The funds are not meant for general administrative expenses. Nor may the funds be used to directly or indirectly:

Establish, restore, or supplement a rainy day fund;

Supplant state funds to establish, restore, or supplement a rainy day fund;

Reduce or retire state debt; or

Supplant state funds to reduce or retire state debt.

According to the NSBA School Board News Today, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan provided more details in a conference call presentation last Friday. The following are the highlights they reported:

His (Arne Duncan) goal is to award the funds to states within two weeks of the application being received.

In the application, states must affirm that they are complying with Maintenance of Effort requirements and are not using the money for “rainy day” funds or other state programs.

States must choose one of two options for distributing the money: 1) Through their regular state allocation formulas or 2) through their Title I distribution formulas. The law allows states to reserve two percent of the award for administrative purposes.

The law stipulates that funds must be used for salaries and benefits for school-based employees, including teachers, principals, and support staff. Funds may not be used for compensation for district-level employees such as superintendents and departmental directors (an exception would be district-level employees who spend 100 percent of their time working in the schools).

Duncan says his department is structuring the fund to allow “maximum flexibility” for school districts, with options such as rehiring or recalling laid off teachers, restoring furlough days or professional development days and reinstating teachers in afterschool or summer school programs. “The purpose of the law is to give funds to teachers at the local level to benefit students in the classroom,” Duncan said. If states and districts are not meeting the intent, he said, “We will challenge them.”

Funds awarded to the states must be made available to districts for the 2010-11 school year. Districts have the option of using the funds for the coming year or carrying over some or all of the funds into the 2011-12 school year. All funds must be obligated by Sept. 2012.

California may have two problems in receiving and/or distributing the funds from the Federal Jobs Bill. The first problem is it still does not have a budget.

The second problem is that California may have to prove it is in compliance with the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirement.

Maintenance of Effort (MOE) is a federal requirement committing grants recipients to maintain a certain level of state and local spending to be eligible for full and continued participation in federal grant funding. It is meant to ensure that federal monies supplement – not supplant state and local funding obligations.

Last year, Governor Schwarzenegger wanted to cut the pay of 250,000 In-home Supportive Service Workers. The Obama administration over ruled the decision because California accepted stimulus money meant to prevent such cuts. The violation of the MOE would have saved the state $74 million – but cause California to lose $6.8 billion in stimulus money.

Also last year, California’s decision to increase the premiums in Healthy Families, the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, was challenged as a violation of MOE because it would reduced the number of eligible participants while the state gained more federal funding.

This creates a problem for a state that has already cut $19 billion from its education budget over the last few years. California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, attempted to address the problem of maintaining MOE in a letter to the members of the California Congressional Delegation, but it still remains a concern.

In February, as reported in State EdWatch, the Parents and Students For Great Schools coalition requested that the U.S. Department of Education reject California’s Race to the Top [Phase 1] application until the state increases its support for public education to meet the minimum of MOE requirements under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

It is believed that Governor Schwarzenegger lobbied in Washington to be allowed to decrease spending on education to below the MOE requirement.

Also in March, Herb K. Schultz, Senior Advisor to the Governor and Director of California Recovery Task Force responded with a point by complex point rebuttal to their letter. There seems to be ways around the Maintenance of Effort requirements in federal grants - or at least ways to attempt to get around them.

In May, another broad coalition, including the California School Boards Association (CSBA), California PTA, and the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), took California to court. They are suing California (Robles-Wong v. California) to fulfill its obligation to support public education.

How will all this determine the use of $1.2 billion in federal monies to save teachers and other public workers from lay-offs? We’ll know in two weeks. I suspect that it won’t make any difference. The funding model used for education is busted. There are not enough available federal monies to make up for the $19 billion cut from education. We are playing a shuffle game with state and federal monies to hide the fact that no one has money. We will continue to play this shuffle game for as long as possible in the hopes that the economy will recover enough to pay the bills before it all falls apart.

What are the odds of getting another federal jobs bill when this one is spent, the economy has still not recovered, and it’s a non-election year?

School Board News Today – ED officials give details on Education Jobs Fund rollout

California Department of Education News Release - $1.2 billion estimated for California Teachers

CNSNEWS - Obama Administration Sides With Union on California’s Proposed Wage Cuts

Fix School Finances - Robles-Wong v. California

The Quick and the ED – Will Schools End Up Under the Bus?

California Department of Education – Jack O’Connell addresses MOE problem

State EdWatch – Feds to California: Prove Maintenance of Effort

Office of the Governor (Arnold Schwarzenegger) – Response to Prove Maintenance of Effort

California Healthline – Maintenance of Effort Looms Over Health Families, Budget

First Five – State Budget Update: Maintenance of Effort Requirements Could Affect State Budget, Health Access For Kids

With All Our Might – State & Federal Tug of War on MOE?

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Unpacking Race to the Top (California Version) – Part 1

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

- Benjamin Franklin


This is the first post in a series called Unpacking Race to the Top. In this series I will unpack the RTTT grant and comment on them. It may surprise some to hear that there are items in RTTT I believe are actually helpful to education. Unfortunately, the rush to grab federal dollars and cede local control to the feds outweighs them.

Race to the Top (RTTT) is a $4.35 billion dollars federal competitive grant authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) – otherwise known as the stimulus package. Its purpose is to encourage and reward states that are implementing certain reforms in the four education areas described in the ARRA.

Enhancing standards and assessments

Improving the collection and use of data

Increasing teacher effectiveness and achieving equity in teacher distribution

And turning around struggling schools

States must apply for the grant. We are currently in the second phase in the selective distribution of this grant. The U.S. Department of Education awarded $100 million and $500 million dollars respectively to Delaware and Tennessee in the first phase of the program. California was not selected in the first phase. It is now a finalist in the second phase. If California is selected as a winner for this grant, it will be awarded $350 - $700 million dollars by September 30, 2010.

California had until June 1st to submit its application for phase 2. [Special note – The Common Core Standards, a required adoption were not finalized and released until June 2nd]. Governor Schwarzenegger and the California Department of Education announced on April 30th that California would participate in the second phase applications. School districts or Local Education Agencies (LEA) had until May 21st to submit a binding no opt out memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreement to participate in the state’s application.

The cover letter to the binding no opt out memorandum of understanding agreement stated that to participate the LEA must agree to implement all parts of the state’s plan. [Special note – prevailing legal opinions opined that local school board action was not needed to commit districts to this agreement]. Once signed and submitted, the LEA was committed and could not back out except with permission from the California Department of Education in a mutual agreement or by being “kicked” for non-compliance with the mandates.

302 out of 1729 LEA’s in California signed and submitted the MOU agreement. The majority of them (two-thirds) were charter schools. An education law expert opined that the small (17.5%) turn out to be included in the application is not as much a factor as the inclusion of the huge major school districts, such as Los Angeles, in determining the viability of California’ s RTTT application. The number of students serviced in these huge major school districts is equal to the numbers served in smaller states like Delaware and Tennessee that were awarded the grant in the first phase.

In the next post we will unpack the memorandum of understanding agreement. We will look at the binding no opt out commitments of school districts that signed and submitted the MOU agreement.

Race to the Top FAQ -

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Friday, August 6, 2010

The Measure of a Man

This world can analyze and size you up and throw you on the scales

They can I.Q. you and run you through

Their rigorous details

They can do their best to rate you

And they’ll place you on the charts

And then back it up with scientific smarts

But there’s more to what you’re worth

Than their human eyes can see

Oh, I say the measure of a man

Is not how tall you stand

How wealthy or intelligent you are

‘Cause I’ve found out the measure of a man

God knows and understands

For He looks inside to the bottom of your heart

And what’s in the heart defines

The measure of a man

- The Measure of a Man

Performed by 4Him

Songwriters: Stephanie Lewis, Don Koch, and Mark Harris

©Dayspring Music, Definitive Music

California is now among the 34 states plus the District of Columbia to adopt the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The Common Core Standards are the national English language arts and math standards that will be used by the federal government to judge the progress of children, teachers, and administrators across the nation. Stand by for a future national test to go with them.

The National Governors Association Center (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) coordinated the Common Core State Standards Initiative. They must have done a great job because its implementation (before it was finalized and released) was a requirement for states applying for the $4.35 billion dollars Race to the Top federal competitive grant.

Cash strapped California is now among 19 states as a finalist in the running to be awarded the Race to the Top grant. The California Department of Education is hoping to be awarded up to $700 million dollars from the grant. If awarded the grant, it would only have to cede much of its authority in the education of children to the federal government.

Apparently we have learned nothing from No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Race to the Top is NCLB on steroids. It will lead to further narrowing of the curriculum at the expense of science, social studies, history, and the visual and performing arts. It will continue the practice of teaching to the state test (or future national test). It will discourage risk taking in developing individualized learning for students. It will secure the dominance of direct instruction at the expense of other teaching methods, such as, the Socratic method. And let’s not forget, it will create slick gaming of the system and outright cheating.

California will eventually scrap what was already considered quality standards and fully implement the new standards in four years. In that time learning materials and the state test will have to be revamped. Actually, it will have to change everything. So expect a drop in test scores simply because there will be a new unfamiliar test.

Educators know that what fill in the bubble standardized norm-referenced tests measures best – is how well a student performed on that test. They tell us very little about what students actually know and can do. Race to the Top and the Common Core Standards are not about improving the education of students. The agenda here is the federal take over of public school education. Students will be squeezed and pushed through the schooling system as they are now but at a federal scale. Students will go through the one-size fits all cookie cutter system and then sorted to meet the needs according to the federal government.

Cash strapped states are falling over each other for a piece of the $4.35 billion dollars the federal government doesn’t really have to fill their empty coffers without regard to what it will do to education. Federal government schooling is in the future. And as a wise person just told me – if you want to know how good federal government schooling will be, just look at federal government issued peanut butter and cheese.

I have decided that it is preferable to privatized education than to submit to direct federal control of public schooling.

The Scores are in, and the Texas Projection Measure results are mixed (Look at how bizarre high stakes testing can get).

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