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

State and Federal Advocacy continues to be an important part of what Superintendents do on a day-to-day basis, and we are proud to partner with MASA and AASA, as well as countless other organizations to best serve and support our students, staff, and communities. This past year has reinforced and highlighted the need for each of us to remain engaged, collaborate, and rely on each other more than ever. While it is easy to get caught up in “District Minutia,” superintendents must not forget the importance of working with legislators to ensure that policy helps school systems run well and right, rather than create barriers.

In March, the AASA Governing Board and Executive Committee Members ratified its priorities and elected to include a COVID-19 Section in the 2021 Legislative Agenda to ensure an appropriate federal response that will support local school system leadership. Below, you will find the new priorities, as published by AASA in its March Advocate Edition, which included the following:

  • A significant fiscal investment designed to flexibly allow local education leaders to make the decisions and implement the plans necessary to safely open and operate schools for students and staff. This should be a blend of education stabilization funding as well as investment in key categorical programs, including Title I and IDEA.
  • A high bar for states asking to waive their maintenance of effort requirement coupled with a need to ensure any maintenance of effort flexibility for states is similarly available for districts.
  • Flexibility to state and local education agencies to suspend, reduce and/or redesign assessment and accountability.
  • An explicit investment of $12 billion to address the Homework Gap, funding administered to and through the E-Rate program to support schools in their work to connect students to the internet.
  • Flexibility for state and local education agencies to expand, revise and modify their school/academic calendars to best address learning loss. At the local level this could include, but is not limited to, extended day, broader access to summer learning, expanded integration of online learning, and year-round school, among others.
  • An extension of liability protections that are afforded to employers to public schools.
  • Clarification that federal aid can be used to cover staffing absences necessary to keep students and other staff safe.
  • Any effort to reopen schools during the pandemic is dependent upon the availability of personnel. Federal efforts to support local education agencies with their teacher and staffing needs must include:
    • Increased annual investment in Title II of ESSA, which is critical to ongoing educator development and training needs to ensure educators have the professional knowledge to adjust their teaching to changing learning environments predicated by the pandemic.
    • Establishing a commission to address the long-standing teacher shortage exacerbated by the pandemic.
    • Support efforts addressing student learning loss through the deployment of support teachers and tutors.
  • A joint commission led by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services should be formed to detail how to locate, connect with and educate the millions of children who have not attended school since March 2020 and how to leverage resources available in both agencies for these purposes.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid should actively engage district stakeholders in updating technical assistance and guidance that will enable every district to access Medicaid reimbursement for much-needed critical mental health services for children.
  • A prioritization of vaccine access for school personnel and support for district-led vaccination distribution to students.

Also noteworthy, this year AASA members prioritized: ensuring that federal funding is available to support school districts’ ongoing efforts to respond to cybersecurity threats and breaches, including technology, training, and updates to infrastructure; support for the reauthorization of FERPA to include clear and updated language aligned with existing laws and regulations that schools are following, and support for universal school meals on the contingency that such policies do no harm to eligibility for and enrollment in existing federal funding streams serving schools, and fully cover costs associated with the program.

The full AASA Legislative Agenda is available by clicking here.

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