In mid-September, MASA Executive Director Gary Amoroso, MASA President Scott Thielman, MASE Executive Director John Klaber, MASE President Mary Clarkson, Federal Advocacy Chair Jim Johnson, and Federal Advocacy Committee member Chris Mills traveled to Washington D.C. to engage in conversation with our elected officials who represent Minnesota at a federal level.

Once in Washington D.C., the group met at the AASA Offices with the Advocacy and Policy staff as they helped prepared us for meetings with our representatives. Most of the conversation surrounded the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). When this bipartisan bill was signed into law in December, 2015, it was widely viewed as a significant improvement over NCLB. While the law maintains a federal role in education, it emphasizes that role is to support and strengthen, not dictate and prescribe to, schools. The main intent was to bring more control back to the state and local levels.

At the time we met with the AASA Advocacy and Policy staff, they shared a number of key points regarding ESSA and other federal programs that we discussed with our representatives and senators. They include:

Title I – There is concern that local districts will see a reduction in Title I funding as a result of ESSA. The US Department of Education, in their rulemaking process, would allow for states to keep more of the Title I funding by increasing the set-aside from 4% to a mandatory 7%, with the option to go up to 10%. This means that MDE would keep more money for implementing and monitoring programs while fewer dollars would be available to local districts for student programming. Also, under the President’s current budget proposal, there is a $200,000,000 shortfall for implementation. AASA recommends advocating for $400,000,000 above the President’s proposal to meet the needs to fully implement the program.

Title IV Part A – The President’s budget proposal increases funding in this program from $350,000,000 to $500,000,000. Twenty percent of the dollars would go to “well rounded education programs”, which is another way of saying those areas not tested. Twenty percent would be earmarked for school climate issues, which includes everything under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools categories. Up to fifteen percent could be used for devices and up to sixty percent could be used for curriculum, content, and professional development related to devices. While the increase in dollars is a positive thing, the President’s proposal also makes Title IV a competitive grant process. This could have a significant negative impact on a large number of school districts. AASA recommends advocating for Formula Flexible Block Grant, similar to what exists today, as well as a budget target of $750,000,000 which is robust enough to make a meaningful difference in programming for our students.

IDEA – The current funding rate for IDEA is 15.9%. AASA is advocating for an increase to bring us back to the 2009 rates of 16.8-16.9%.

Perkins Grants – Perkins funding has received a great deal of attention in the House. The House version of legislation regarding Perkins passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support. It includes streamlining the local applications, advocates for better alignment between business and school districts, and promotes career counseling and exploration. AASA advocates for supporting the House version and stressed the points that it must remain a formula driven program and it must keep secondary and post-secondary funding separate. The Senate had not taken any action on Perkins at the time we visited with our Senators.

Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act – AASA is advocating for a hold on the upcoming renewal of this legislation. In 2017 and 2022, there are new requirements regarding things such as sodium content, which will make it even more difficult for us to run our food service programs. Currently, one serving of the commodities we receive from the federal government for our food service programs may exceed the sodium content for a full week. In addition, the Senate has a requirement in their proposal to renew this legislation which would require us to verify 10% of free and reduced lunch applications and would also require us to get W-2s from parents. This is an increase from the 3% of applications we must verify now which increases our cost of operation. Any parent that does not provide their W-2 would automatically not be verified and therefore their children would no longer be eligible for free and reduced meals.

Most of our trip was spent meeting with members of the Minnesota legislative delegation in Washington D.C. We met with Representatives Emmer, Kline, Nolan, Paulson, Peterson, and Walz as well as staff members from Representative Ellison’s and McCollum’s offices. We also met with Senators Franken and Klobachar. We found each person to be engaging and willing to listen to our concerns.

Our group finished our trip with a visit to the US Department of Education. Our main message to this group was one we heard loud and clear from Representative Kline, the key author of ESSA. The message was to implement the law as intended by Congress and to not overstep their authority.

Thank you to the members of MASA and MASE for the opportunity to represent you in Washington D.C.

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