Dr. Dan Bittman
Elk River Area School District
MN AASA Governing Board Member
MASA President-Elect 2020-21

The Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA) is a service organization representing more than 900 Minnesota superintendents, directors of special education, curriculum and technology leaders, central office administrators, higher education administrators and professors, as well as more than 250 retirees. In addition to providing professional learning opportunities, legal assistance, mentoring, and association communications to its members, MASA also provides legislative advocacy within Minnesota and throughout the nation.

MASA is a state affiliate of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), maintains an active Federal Advocacy Committee, and has four representatives serving on the National AASA Governing Board. These efforts, committees and representatives ensure that all Minnesota educators have a voice and seat at the table, while helping to shape the state and national education agenda.  The Federal Advocacy Committee is responsible for establishing communications with Minnesota’s eight U.S. Congresspersons and Minnesota U.S. Senators. As more federal legislation is enacted that impacts local schools, these committees and representatives work towards a strong and unified voice to influence legislation.

As a superintendent over the last ten years, former MASA Committee Chair, and current representative on the National AASA Governing Board, I have had the opportunity to work with extremely dedicated educational leaders committed to doing good things for kids, schools, and communities each and every day.  The work continues to be important, exhausting, and exhilarating, and is something we must continue to prioritize.  I am grateful to serve on the National Board with Superintendent John Cselovszki (Sleepy Eye), Superintendent Brandon Lunak (Moorhead), and Superintendent Craig Oftedahl (Luverne), as well as with MASA Executive Director Henton, and members of the MASA Executive Board, which include Superintendent Jeff Elstad (Owatonna), Superintendent David Law (Anoka-Hennepin), and Superintendent Scott Thielman (Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose). These individuals, as well as many others work tirelessly for you, MASA, and most importantly, our children.

As a beginning superintendent, I remember being quite overwhelmed on a day-to-day basis, finding legislative work to be intimidating. I also remember not being able to even think about things happening outside my school district or at a national level.  When I was invited to the Capitol to talk with area legislators, or to work on policy…I would think, “who has time for that?” or “I don’t think I am qualified or should be speaking on behalf of other Minnesotans or superintendents.”  Now, I realize just how important it is, and how our work makes our systems, states, and school districts among the best in the nation.  I do not have all the answers, but I continue to learn with and from my colleagues, and am passionate about making our school districts and states better for all learners.  While there is always much more to do, I am proud of what we continue to accomplish but recognize, more than ever, that federal advocacy has a significant impact on our educational institutions and that I / we must remain actively engaged, doing everything we can…even when we do not have time or are dealing with such things as pandemics, budget reductions, teacher negotiations, or referendums.

This year, we have focused our energies on COVID 19 and FY 21 Funding, Equitable Services, Technology and the Homework Gap, IDEA Flexibility, Child Nutrition, and Liability Protection.  Below you will find a few talking points developed mostly by AASA that might help you and others share our stories and advocate on behalf of all learners.  I would encourage you to become involved, write your representatives, make a visit to the Capitol, or begin the discussion around one or all of these topics.  Every interaction we have and effort we make, provides a better, and more effective system for our children.  Give it a try, we are stronger together!

COVID 19 and FY 21 Funding:

  • Thank your members of Congress for the final FY20 package, which included modest increases to the U.S. Department of Education, a critical investment that worked to restore the continued pressure of recession cuts.
  • We oppose any effort to direct public dollars to private education. We oppose all vouchers and privatization schema. We ask Congress to continue to prioritize investment in critical formula programs designed to level the playing field, including IDEA, Title I and Title IV.
  • Education is a continual investment. Investing in education builds a stronger nation. We need a well-trained and educated workforce ready to compete in a global economy and support our military.

Equitable Services:

  • We oppose the DeVos guidance and interim rule and support equitable services. We understand the importance of ensuring that all Title I-eligible students receive the support for which they qualify.
  • Congress must act swiftly to ensure the CARES Act funding—and any subsequent federal emergency funding— be allocated equitably and not be hijacked to provide preferential funding shares for private schools.
  • The DeVos proposal interim rule presents itself as an option of choice, but really just further complicates and delays allocation of critical response dollars as state and local education agencies—many of whom had finalized their budgets and started allocation—are left scrambling.
  • The interim rule brings confusion to the field at the exact time that all educators—in private AND public schools—are looking for efficiency in how resources are allocated and available.

Technology and the Homework Gap:

  • Nearly 12 million students are unable to engage in remote learning because they lack internet access. Congress must address this homework gap in their next COVID package.
  • Congress must invest $5 billion in funding to and through the existing E-Rate program to best support equitable access to affordable internet.
  • The FCC can quickly and easily make changes to help get appropriated emergency E-rate funds out specifically for the homework gap to connect students to the internet while their school buildings are closed.
  • It is both efficient and expedient to move federal dollars through an already existing proven program; and it is much easier to use an existing program than “start from scratch” during an emergency. Schools and libraries know the E-rate. Introducing a new program during this COVID-19 emergency saddles them with more bureaucracy and delay – the opposite of what is needed.

IDEA Flexibility:

  • It is critical that Congress provide practical, narrow flexibility in how districts meet some of the requirements under IDEA and to ensure that school personnel who are unable to meet every timeline, provide the same quality and quantity of services to students virtually and meet other administrative requirements in the law during the pandemic, are not automatically subject to potential litigation for failure to fully implement this complex and underfunded federal law.
  • Districts need pandemic-specific liability protection that ensures that as long as school personnel document that they have made reasonable and measurable efforts to provide FAPE to students and have not engaged in discrimination, bad faith or gross misjudgment that they not be sued for their inability to meet IDEA.
  • Congress should also provide districts with a local waiver to reduce IDEA spending. Unlike Title I, IDEA has a 100% maintenance of effort requirement and no opportunity for a local waiver due to a precipitous decline in financial resources. This is hitting districts in two ways:
  • During the 2019-2020 school year some districts redirected money that they had budgeted to spend on special education towards other sudden, emerging needs like technology purchases and food delivery therefore not spending everything they intended to spend for special education programming.
    • Many districts are anticipating that local revenue losses will be severe and coupled with state declines that they will be unable to spend the exact same amount of funding they did on special education and related services in the 2020-2021 school year as they did in the 2019-2020 school year.
  • As long as budget cuts for special education spending is proportional to other program cuts in the district, districts must be allowed to reduce their special education spending by up to 20%.

Child Nutrition:

  • It is imperative that Congress ensure the extension of all the waivers issued by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture through at least March of 2021. Specifically, this includes Area Eligibility, Unanticipated School Closure, Non-Congregate Feeding, Parent and Guardian Pick-Up, Meal Service, Meal Pattern Times, Child and Adult Care Food Program waivers.
  • Given the rise in unemployment and poverty, districts must be given the flexibility to qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision based upon student free and reduced-price lunch data from the past three years. By including this provision in the next COVID-19 relief package, Congress will be able to ensure greater participation in the program by LEAs.
  • Congress should grant authority to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) so that LEAs can be reimbursed under the Public Assistance Category “B” Program for costs associated with serving meals to needy students and premium pay for school critical food service staff (e.g., bus drivers, lunch/breakfast employees, and school custodians).
  • Congress must dedicate $2.6 billion to mitigate a portion of the estimated financial loss that school nutrition programs have and will continue to experience during the pandemic. Allocating these funds will be a critical step in making school nutrition programs financially solvent and to maintain the integrity of essential food security programs as the recovery process begins.

Liability Protection:

  • As Congress moves forward in its efforts to enact temporary liability protections for employers that work to follow applicable public health guidelines against COVID-19 exposure claims, that public school systems and educational institutions be included in such protections.
  • In asking for these liability protections, we think they should be limited in scope and preserve recourse for those harmed by truly bad actors who engage in egregious misconduct.
  • Now is the time for Congress to take strong action to stop a growing wave of lawsuits from getting in the way of what we all want and need: healthy citizens and a strong economy.

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