September 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:

BESE Recovery School District Committee Meeting
House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Education

General Update on Stimulus Funding for Education
Senator Harkin New Chair of Senate Education Committee
President Obama Speaks to Students

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

BESE Recovery School District Committee Meeting

The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) held for the first time on Tuesday, September 15, 2009, a meeting of the newly created Recovery School District (RSD) Committee. The committee addressed a variety of issues affecting RSD schools that were previously discussed in different BESE committees. RSD Superintendent Paul Vallas and his staff were on hand to provide information and answer questions.

Of particular interest was a discussion about the creation of an Oversight Committee for the School Facilities Master Plan for New Orleans, the approval of which was strongly supported by the Cowen Institute in December 2008. BESE members inquired as to why the Oversight Committee has not yet been formed, and members of the RSD Committee stated that they expect the Oversight Committee to be convened before BESE meets in October.

House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Education

The Subcommittee on Education of the House Committee on Appropriations met on Monday, September 14, 2009, to hear an overview on the Recovery School District and its operations. The Subcommittee heard from various officials about finances, expenditures and revenues associated with the Recovery School District since its inception. Watch a video of the meeting on the Louisiana House of Representatives website [more info].

General Update on Stimulus Funding for Education

Title I School Improvement Grants
On August 26, 2009, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced draft requirements for the $3.5 billion in Title I School Improvement Grants. These grants are funded by $546 million in the fiscal year 2009 appropriation and an additional $3 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, or “the stimulus bill”) to support the transformational changes that are needed to turn around the nation’s lowest-achieving schools.

Under the rules proposed by the Department of Education, a state must identify the bottom five percent of its Title I schools in school improvement status. Each school district would then be required to implement an intervention according to the defined guidelines.

The Title I School Improvement Grants funding is a part of the Secretary’s goal to turn around the 5,000 lowest-performing schools over the next five years. Additional funding is available to meet this goal including $4.35 billion under the Race to the Top Fund and $650 million under the Investing in What Works and Innovation programs.

The U.S. Department of Education is currently receiving comments on the proposed regulations. If you would like to submit comments on these proposed regulations, click here .The deadline for comments is September 25, 2009.

To read the press release announcing the draft requirements for the Title I School Improvement Grants, click here.

Race to the Top Fund

The thirty-day public comment period on the proposed competition regulations for the $4 billion Race to the Top Fund ended on August 28, 2009. Over a thousand comments were received from states, school districts, teachers’ unions, organizations and individuals offering both support and criticism for the proposed rules.

The U.S. Department of Education plans to issue the final regulations in November, as well as an outline of the scoring framework that will explain how much weight the different criteria will receive. The department hopes to award the first of two phases of grant money to states early next year.

Sen. Harkin New Chair of Senate Education Committee

Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa has replaced the late Senator Edward Kennedy as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. In addition to this new position, Sen. Harkin is also chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees education spending, giving him broad control over both policy and funding issues for K-12 education in the Senate. Harkin, who has long been a champion for students in special education and a supporter of Kennedy’s work on education, will play a critical role in the upcoming reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Educators across the country are saddened by the loss of Senator Kennedy, who was a powerful and passionate advocate for improving public education in the United States. Kennedy shaped every major education law passed since the 1960s, from Head Start to the Elementary and secondary Education Act, and he illustrated a deep commitment to ensuring access to high quality education for people of all ages – especially the neediest and most disadvantaged. His leadership on the HELP Committee will be sorely missed.

President Speaks to Students

In a speech broadcast across the country on Tuesday, September 8, President Barack Obama challenged the nation’s students to take responsibility for their education, to set goals and do everything they can to succeed. Despite some controversy before the speech, Obama steered clear of partisan issues and instead focused on personal accountability, hard work and perseverance. To read the remarks and view a video of the speech, click here.

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