August 2009 Legislative Update

This legislative update provides the latest in K-12 education policy at the state and federal levels. Specifically, this update includes the following items:

Potential Race to the Top Funds for Louisiana
Louisiana Receives Charter School Grant
School Construction Funding in Congress
Federal Charter School Programs Appropriation
Cowen Institute Briefs Lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

If you would like more information, please contact Nash Molpus at

Race to the Top for Louisiana

The New Teacher Project, a national education nonprofit, deemed Louisiana one of the two most competitive states for receiving a share of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top grant program through the U.S. Department of Education – the most competitive portion of the stimulus funding that the Department will distribute to states. While the group called their analysis “quick and dirty,” they judged states based on how well each was already meeting the four priorities outlined for all education stimulus funding and then ranked them. The four priorities include strong academic standards, effective use of data to improve schools, teacher and principal improvement programs, and turning around struggling schools. To read the article in the Times Picayune, click here.

Louisiana Receives Grant for Charter Schools

Last week , the Louisiana Department of Education announced that Louisiana was one of five states to receive a two-year grant to aid the development and support of new charter schools. The funding for Louisiana totals over $19 million for the two years with the potential to receive another $5.8 million in the third year if Louisiana makes satisfactory progress toward the U.S. Department of Education’s goals. To read the Louisiana Department of Education’s press release, click here.

School Construction Funding Included in Senate and House Bills

Providing funding for school modernization, renovation and repair is clearly a priority for the President and members of Congress. In the past several months, two bills have been introduced that include funding for schools.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Chairman George Miller (CA) of the House Education and Labor Committee introduced H.R. 3221, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009. This bill was approved by the Committee and passed by the full House. This bill eliminates the Federal Family Education Loan Program and replaces it with a direct-lending program that allows students to borrow directly from the U.S. Treasury. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will generate $87 billion in savings over the next ten years. The savings will be directed toward funding the Pell Grant scholarship program, investing in early childhood education and school modernization, and reducing the deficit – all priorities of the Obama administration. Specifically, the bill contains $4.1 billion for school renovation, repair and modernization with $60 million directed to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. To read the text of HR 3221, click here.

In the Senate, Tom Harkin (IA) introduced S. 1121, the School Buildings Fairness Act of 2009 in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. This bill would provide $6 billion a year in grants for repair, renovation, and construction of K-12 school facilities. The funds would be allocated by formula to the states, but distributed to districts competitively. In addition, Harkin included $700 million for school facilities in the FY2010 Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill to be distributed according to the same provisions in S. 1121. The Appropriations Committee passed the bill on July 30 and it is expected to go before the full Senate for a vote after the August recess. To read the text of S. 1121, click here.

Charter School Programs May Receive Increased Funding

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives agreed on a version of the FY2010 Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill with an additional $40 million toward Charter School Programs. This brings the total funding for this program to $256 million. The bill follows the U.S. Department of Education priorities outlined above for the use of education-related stimulus funding.

ARRA Fund Regulations Explained by Department of Education

On July 27, the U.S. Department of Education hosted a webinar on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds available through the Department of Education. The purpose was to outline the four priorities of the administration in giving all of these grants and to review the timeline and requirements for each grant.

The Department’s integrated core reform priorities as outlined during the webinar are:

  • Standards and Assessments: common internationally benchmarked standards with aligned assessments
  • Effective Teachers and Leaders: talent matters; effective teachers supported by effective leaders make the difference
  • Data Systems: quality information enables continuous improvement by all – students, teachers, parents, and policy makers
  • Struggling Schools: aggressive intervention required in chronically low-performing schools

Based on these priorities, the Department will distribute funds to the following programs:
Race to the Top ($4.35 billion)
School Improvement Grants ($3.5 billion)
Education Technology ($650 million)
Investing in Innovation ($650 million)
Teacher Incentive Fund ($300 million)
Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems ($250 million)

At the end of July, the Race to the Top and the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Phase Two notices of proposed priorities and requirements were issued. The rest of the programs will follow throughout the Fall and into the Winter/Spring 2010.

The U.S. Department of Education is currently receiving comments on the proposed regulations for the Race to the Top fund and the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) – Phase 2. If you would like to submit comments on these proposed regulations, click here. To view the PowerPoint presentation from the webinar, click here. To view the transcript from the webinar, including all questions asked by participants, click here.

Tracking ARRA Funds for School Construction

The 21st Century School Fund and Building Educational Success Together (BEST) Collaboration was awarded a grant from the Ford Foundation to track whether, where, and how much of the ARRA stabilization and tax credit school construction funding will actually be used to for school repair, renovation, and modernization. Specifically, they will evaluate how funding impacts children in schools with a large percentage of low income families located in low income communities. Thus far, there is little indication in state stabilization applications that the money will be used for school construction.

Cowen Institute’s Associate Director Meets with Lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

On August 5 and 6, Nash Molpus, Associate Director of the Cowen Institute, traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers and federal officials to discuss K-12 education issues in New Orleans and Louisiana.

Nash met with staff members from the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and the House Education and Workforce Committee to discuss how they can continue to support the K-12 public schools in New Orleans. Furthermore, she met with Homeland Security to advocate for the forgiveness of the $60 million of Community Disaster Loans for the Orleans Parish School Board. The staff that she met with was receptive to continuing to provide support for the exciting reforms taking place in public education in New Orleans. The Cowen Institute will continue to serve as an information source on public education in New Orleans to our federal partners.

Nash also spoke to the U.S. Department of Education about the timelines and criteria for education related stimulus funds— specifically the Race to the Top Fund, the Teacher Incentive Fund and the What Works and Innovation Fund. Additionally, Nash met with staff members from the Louisiana delegation to provide information on the K-12 public schools in Louisiana, to inform them of the Cowen Institute’s latest activities, and to answer any questions they have related to research or policy on K-12 schools in Louisiana. Nash asked for the delegation’s support on two pieces of federal legislation that would improve the school facilities in Louisiana — HR 2187 and HR 3221. To read the text of HR 2187, click here.

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