Whiteboard Notes | Improving FAFSA; Federal K-12 Rulemaking Continues; State Funding Updates

Congress & Administration

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education released a draft version of accountability rules for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Among other things, the proposed regulations would require states to ensure that school districts are implementing accountability systems based on multiple measures of school success, including academic outcomes, student progress, and school quality. The rules also mandate that states take “robust action” to address schools with low test participation rates. Check out W/A's overview of the ESSA timeline here.

States, Districts, & Colleges

On Monday, the National College Access Network (NCAN) announced the selection of 22 cities across the U.S. to receive grants of up to $55,000 each to increase FAFSA completion rates for the graduating class of 2017. Supported by a $1.6 million grant from The Kresge Foundation, the FAFSA Completion Challenge Grant will enable the planning and implementation of city-wide FAFSA completion efforts. In addition to the city-specific grants, NCAN will award an additional $300,000 in prizes to the cities that demonstrate the greatest percentage growth, highest completion rate, and most innovative strategy with postsecondary institutions. The awards will be given in September 2017.

In a special election last week, Arizona voters narrowly passed a ballot measure that will add $3.5 million to public and charter school state funds over the next decade. The measure, Proposition (Prop) 123, was supported by Republican Governor Doug Ducey, and will draw most of the funding from an increased payout of the state’s century-old land trust fund. Prop 123--which is a response to a 2010 lawsuit over the state’s inability to fund inflation-related spending increases during the Recession--will allow the state to pay 70 percent of what the court ruled the schools are owed. Public and charter schools will receive $224 million for the current fiscal year, and starting on July 1, will receive $230 million for the next fiscal year. Most districts plan to use the funding to increase teacher salaries.
On Monday, Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) signed HB 7019, a law requiring colleges and universities to take measures to make textbooks more affordable, and to inform students of the cost of textbooks before the semester begins. Institutions will also have to inform students at least 28 days before trustees plan to raise tuition or fees, and the Board of Governors are now required to find ways to increase affordability and submit annual reports.
Last Thursday, the Kansas Board of Regents voted to create a working group to study and make recommendations for a statewide initiative that would help Kansans with some college but no degree to obtain a certificate or diploma at a public postsecondary institution. The working group is expected to present its findings and recommendations in October, after which the Board of Regents will decide whether to pursue the initiative, which would potentially require revisions to state policy, and a plan to support these students after enrollment. Leadership within the Board of Regents have stated that the estimated 38,000 Kansans that the initiative would target are often hard to reach, and expressed the importance of support and advising to the success of adults returning to school.
Earlier this week, the Maryland State Board of Education unanimously approved Karen Salmon as the new State Superintendent. Salmon is currently the interim Deputy State Superintendent for School Effectiveness, and previously served as Superintendent of Maryland’s Talbot County Public Schools and New York’s Bay Shore Union Free School District. Salmon, who replaces former State Superintendent Lillian Lowery, will begin her role as the acting State Superintendent in June, taking up the permanent position on July 1.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has signed legislation calling for the State Board of Education to include computer science (CS), computational thinking, and computer coding into the Standards of Learning Curriculum. The Virginia Senate and House of Delegates both passed the measure unanimously earlier this year. It will take about two years to develop and implement the new standards, and the state board will incorporate them into the curriculum during the next review. The Governor's signed budget also allocates funding for computer science professional development 
A new report out this week from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities revealed states are collectively investing 17 percent less in their public colleges and universities, or $1,525 less per student, since 2007. The report argues that the dip in state funding has accelerated the longer-term trends in college affordability, placing college out of reach for more students. While some states have increased investment in two- and four-year colleges since the Recession low, tuition remains much higher than it was before the Recession hit. The average tuition at public universities today is 33 percent higher than it was in 2007. The report asks state policymakers to avoid shortsighted tax cuts that would make it much harder for states to invest in higher education and ultimately compete for the jobs of the future.

The first recipients of the Federal Financial Aid Advocacy (FFAA) Fund, which is supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, were announced this week. The three winning organizations are Campaign for College Opportunity, National College Access Network, and Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Grantees will receive a collective total of $492,300, and more than $500,000 is still available for appropriate advocacy projects. The FFAA Fund is continuing to accept additional applications until June 24.