October 6 Legislative Update

The Cowen Institute is pleased to share with you the latest in K-12 education policy at the state and federal levels. Specifically, this update includes the following items:

Louisiana Receives $131.6 Million in Tax-Credit Bonds for Facilities Construction
Revised Draft of Academic Standards Released
House Passes Bill with School Construction Funding
No Child Left Behind Reauthorization

If you would like more information, please contact Nash Molpus at nmolpus@tulane.edu.

Louisiana Receives $131.6 Million in Tax-Credit Bonds for Facilities Construction

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act school districts across the country have access to over $24 billion in zero- or low-interest facilities bonds over the next two years. Through the authorization of Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCB) and the extension of Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZAB), local educational agencies have the opportunity to save money and make their repair, renovation, or construction dollars go further. Purchasers of QSCBs and QZABs receive a federal income tax credit. The U.S. Treasury Department establishes state allocation limits and sets a tax-credit rate for the QSCB and QZAB bond programs that, on average, equals the amount of interest schools would ordinarily pay on debt. With the federal government covering most or all of the interest on the bonds, school districts receive a substantial benefit as interest payments typically equal to approximately 50 percent of the economic cost of a bond.

Read a one-pager on QZABs [more info]

Read a one-pager on QSCBs [more info]

The demand for QSCB bonds has been high, with many states receiving applications for well over their funding allocation. Louisiana has been allocated $131,622,000 million for QSCBs, with additional sums allocated to four parish school boards including $38,607,000 million for Orleans Parish School Board. In a letter to parish superintendents on August 4th, Deputy Superintendent Ollie Tyler said the Louisiana Department of Education received $272 million in requests from 34 districts, but more requests were expected. Initially, the allocations were to be given on a first-come, first-served basis. However, because of the high volume in requests, the state Department of Education set a $10 million cap to give more districts access to the bond program. The Lafayette Parish school system received $10 million in bonds, which is only one-third of what it requested. Districts awarded the bonds have 90 days to set up a sale and submit documentation to the state Department of Education. It’s expected that some districts may not be able to meet the deadline, so more allocation rounds are likely. Any funds not used this year will roll over to next year.

To read an article about Deputy Superintendent Tyler’s letter to superintendents in the Baton Rouge newspaper, The Advocate, please click here.

Revised Draft of Nationwide Academic Standards Released

The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) released last week a public draft of proposed common “college- and career-readiness” academic standards, detailing high school student expectations in math and language arts. Forty-eight states, including Louisiana, have agreed to take part in the Common Core State Initiative, whose goal is to establish more uniform academic standards across the country, in contrast to the wide variations among states today. Feedback on the draft is being accepted until October 21, 2009. To read the Common Core standards and submit feedback, click here.

 House Passes Bill with School Construction Funding

On September 17, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3221, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, by a vote of 253-171. H.R. 3221, introduced by Chairman George Miller (CA) of the House Education and Labor Committee, 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.

The legislation must now go to the Senate, where the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is writing a separate but similar bill that has not yet been introduced. To read the text of H.R. 3221, click here.

No Child Left Behind Reauthorization

On September 24th, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with of over 200 representatives from education associations, think tanks, community groups and other key stakeholders to underline his likely priorities and stress his sense of urgency about reworking the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The NCLB, which was originally enacted in 2002 and is the most recent incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is overdue for reauthorization in Congress. Secretary Duncan focused on the need to ensure effective teachers and principals for underperforming schools, expand learning time, and devise an accountability system that measures individual student progress and uses data to inform instruction and teacher evaluation. While the Education Department does not yet have a specific timeline for releasing a draft bill, they are hoping to move quickly.

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