Whiteboard Notes | State Education Budgets; Restoring Pell Grants; EduDeals of the Week

Congress & Administration

The U.S. Department of Education is working to finalize a rule on state approval of online programs before the end of the year. Last week, the Department submitted a rule to the Office of Budget and Management, the initial step towards getting a rule to take effect. This submission was a surprise to many who believed the Department would abandon previously unsuccessful efforts to initiate rules on state authorization of distance education programs. In order to go into effect on July 1 of next year, the final rule will have to be issued before the end of October, therefore requiring it to quickly pass OBM review. Due to this time crunch, the rule’s language is expected to be similar to previous drafts. This might mean a previously controversial provision, which requires states to conduct an “active review” of out-of-state colleges, will remain. In the past, this provision has been criticized by distance-education providers for “increasing review costs.”

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced the final round of Promise Zones, which are high poverty areas in select urban, rural and tribal communities. As part of the Promise Zone initiative launched by President Obama in January 2014, the federal government partners with local community leaders to boost economic activity, facilitate job growth, improve educational opportunities, reduce crime, and increase private investment. The nine new Promise Zones, which include targeted communities ranging from South Los Angeles to Puerto Rico, will join 13 other Promise Zone communities around the country.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Education released the latest Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), based on information gathered during the 2013-14 school year from more than 50 million public school students nationwide. In addition to providing basic demographic information, the CRDC provides data on school finance, pathways to college and career readiness, and student discipline, among a number of other factors. Overall, the results of the survey show that black students face significant difficulties in their education compared to their white peers: black students are suspended and expelled at higher rates, are more likely to be disciplined through law enforcement rather than through school channels, and have less access to higher-level math and science courses. This was the first year that the CRDC included data on chronic absenteeism, and the data indicate that more than 6.5 million students are absent 15 or more days in a school year.

Today, the U.S Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions approved a $161.9 billion bill that would restore year-round Pell Grant eligibility. An estimated one million students will receive an additional Pell Grant of, on average, $1,650 for the 2017-2018 school year. The bill also increases the maximum Pell Grant amount awarded from $5,815 to $5,935. Additionally, local education agencies get $15.4 billion in Title I grants, $300 million in Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, $11.95 billion for IDEA, and $1.316 billion for impact aid. The bill also increased funds for an apprenticeship program, Head Start,charter schools, Promise Neighborhoods, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), among other entities and initiatives. An appropriations subcommittee approved the bill on Wednesday; this is the first bipartisan Senate HELP bill in seven years.


States, Districts, & Colleges

The California Department of Education ruled that the Los Angeles Unified School District (L.A. Unified) shortchanged the district $450 million in contributions meant for low-income students, English language learners, and foster children under the state's Local Control Funding Formula, which was passed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2013. Over a year ago, advocates—including the Community Coalition of South Los Angeles—asserted that the district was using the money under the revised state funding plan for its general program for all students, or for other costs. The advocates sued L.A. Unified over the matter, and filed a complaint with the State Department of Education. While the lawsuit is pending, last week state officials sided with the advocates. The district has been ordered to revise its school budget going forward to provide additional services for high-need students. L.A. Unified has stated it intends to challenge the decision. The new budget year for 2016-2017 starts July 1.

This week, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Forrest Claypool told the Chicago Tribune that unless the district secures additional state funding, schools will not open in the fall. Illinois failed to approve a state budget last week due to ongoing conflicts between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and the Democrat-controlled state legislature, and a separate education plan proposed by the Governor met with resistance from CPS leadership. Facing a $1 billion budget deficit and pressure from the Chicago Teacher’s Union, the district is mounting an aggressive campaign to increase state funding in order to ensure that it can operate for the next school year.

On Tuesday, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback announced a special session to try to keep schools open after July 1. This comes after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled last month that the state’s school funding formula is inequitable, and threatened to shut down schools as of July 1. The state department of education estimates it would take about $51 million to keep the schools open. Democrats have started a petition to force a special session, while Republicans have considered amending the constitution to ensure the courts cannot close schools. Most of the legislature is up for re-election in the fall.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has until midnight next Saturday, June 18 to sign the state’s $6.8 billion budget. Several of the proposals that the Governor pushed for earlier this year -- including raising teacher pay, taxing cigarettes, updating the the sales tax code, and consolidating school districts --  failed to make it through the House and Senate and into the finalized legislation that landed on her desk. Instead, the budget uses a variety of one-time funds from sources like transportation bonds, a road and bridge construction fund, and the state’s rainy day fund to help offset the large hole in the budget. Governor Fallin expressed support for lawmakers avoiding severe cuts to public K-12 education and healthcare, but disappointment for shortcomings in other priority areas.