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Ryan Budget Freezes Maximum Pell Grants

Joy Resmovits   |   March 12, 2013    6:53 PM ET

Under Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis) "Path to Prosperity" budget framework for 2014, college students would have one less weapon against the creep of climbing college tuitions: Pell Grants would freeze at their current level, with a maximum possible grant of $5,645 per student for the next 10 years.

"We see continued cuts to education," said Mary Kusler, who heads government affairs for the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union. "It goes beyond the sequester cuts."

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, had even harsher words. “The new Republican budget proposal from Rep. Ryan is as unoriginal as it is awful. The Ryan budget is unsound, unrealistic and out-of-touch with the needs of the American people."

Though the budget is unlikely to be passed in an Democratic Senate, it signals Ryan's legislative priorities. A phone call to Ryan's office requesting comment was not returned.

Pell Grants currently help more than nine million low-income students pay for college. These grants would be made entirely discretionary under Ryan's budget. (About $800 per grant currently comes from mandatory funding).

College tuition generally increases between 3 and 5 percentage points above the rate of inflation. A recent report found that tuition increased 4.8 percent at four-year public universities. Pell Grants also are scheduled to increase following the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2010 to $5,730 for next year.

"It doesn't make new investments in our generation," said Rory O'Sullivan, who directs policy for the Young Invincibles, a youth advocacy group. "It's going to make college more expensive next year for students and their families."

It would take an act of Congress -- separate from a budget resolution -- to overturn SAFRA and the corresponding scheduled Pell increases.

Ryan links Pells to the increasing tuition rates, which many experts say is inaccurate. "It's interesting to see him try to tie his desire to cut the Pell Grant program with the public's anxiety around college costs," said Amy Laitinen, a higher education expert at the New America Foundation. "He's trying to link the two and trying to create the story that Pell Grants are responsible for tuition increases, which doesn't actually make sense."

But overall, Ryan's budget narrative is a rehash of his 2013 ask, and is very vague about K-12 policy. Ryan's only word on K-12 came within the following paragraph:

The current structure for K–12 programs at the Department of Education is fragmented and ineffective. Moreover, many programs are duplicative and poorly targeted to students with the greatest needs. This budget calls for reorganization and streamlining of K–12 programs and anticipates major reforms to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act [ESEA], which was last reauthorized as part of the No Child Left Behind Act [NCLB]. The budget also recommends that the committees of jurisdiction terminate and reduce programs that are failing to improve student achievement and address the duplication among the 82 programs that are designed to improve teacher quality.

Jason Delisle, an education and budget expert who has written such budget documents, says this lack of detail is par for the course. "I know the limitations and I know when people are purposefully taking advantage of these limitations to not tell us anything," he said.

Tuesday's release will be followed by an official budget resolution, but Delisle said that is also unlikely to have more details.

Ed Today: Department Of Defense Schools Await Furlough News; More Early Education Details From Obama Administration

Joy Resmovits   |   March 12, 2013    8:41 AM ET

More Early Ed Details? Yesterday, President Barack Obama's education advisor Roberto Rodriguez addressed the Council of the Great City Schools legislative conference, and gave folks a few more details about Obama's early ed plans, according to Education Week. The program is apparently a full-day preschool program that is to be overseen by school districts, he said. "We want to go beyond the three-hour-a-day preschool model," Rodriguez said. But he still wouldn't provide any details on how much money the federal government would spend on the initiative.

Sequestration Nation? Department of Defense schools stillhaven't learned the extend of the effects of sequestration cuts, a fact that has rankled DoD teachers and families across the globe, we report. DoD schools across the globe could face up to 22 days of furloughs, but the body that governs these schools is still figuring it out. Some teachers want to find other cuts. "It seems odd that we're told we're mission-essential, but now, we can suddenly be furloughed," one teacher in the UK told me.

Middling Reform In Virginia? According to the Washington Post, Gov. Bob McDonnell's attempts to reform education have achieved "mixed results." Despite campaigning initially on a fully reformy agenda, only some efforts, like a voucher-like program and school grades, have panned out, whereas the state only has four charter schools and the teacher merit pay program is not fully funded. "His overall record has alarmed many of Virginia's Democratic lawmakers and educators, who say a shift toward private alternatives could undermine the state's public schools," the Post reports. "But nationally, reform activists say they are frustrated that despite an explosion of education innovations during the past four years, Virginia still lags behind other states."

No Respite For School Closures? On Monday, New York City rejected a proposal that would have halted the city's school closure plans, reports the New York Times. The panel voted to carry out a plan that would "phase out" 22 schools. The Times notes that the decision pushes "any hope" for a closure moratorium "into the next mayor's hands." "We're waiting for the next mayor -- I hope it'll be me -- who'll again believe in our children, believe in our communities," said Democratic candidate Bill Thompson.

**Extra Credit**
Massachusetts Early Education Chief steps down, but the Associated Press reports she says it's "unrelated to criticism of her participation in a school superintendent mentoring program."

Well, this is awkward. Pennsylvania has clarified that no, teachers don't have to pass a quiz in order to administer standardized tests.

This State's Children Could Get A Constitutional Boost

Joy Resmovits   |   March 8, 2013    6:39 PM ET

New Mexico is weighing a bill that could make it the country's first state to explicitly protect early education funding in its constitution.

For the last three years, New Mexico Senate majority leader Michael Sanchez (D) has introduced a bill that would let the state vote on a constitutional amendment to fund preschool by an additional $100 million annually. The money would come from an annual disbursement of 1 percent of New Mexico's Land Grant Permanent Fund, the country's second largest in-state land fund with more than $10 billion. The fund is treated as a rainy day fund, and the bill has a trigger that would stop the disbursement should the fund be significantly devalued.

In previous years, the bill was only introduced in the Senate, then locked up in the Senate's finance committee. But this year, the bill also was introduced in the House, which was expected to vote on the measure as soon as Friday afternoon.

"We're trying to run it both ways, hoping that if the House passes the bill, it will influence the Senate," Sanchez said. (The bill passed by a thin margin late Sunday.)

Sanchez said he first came up with the idea after speaking with his constituents. New Mexico's education system is in poor shape; only half of Latino students graduating high school on time. But studies show that every dollar put into good preschool programs yields about $7 in return as a student grows up and participates in the economy.

"If you take care of kids on the front end, they'll be less likely to be in jail and in hospitals," Sanchez said. "As a lawyer, I see the back end a lot. I see the end result. I represent poor people, a lot of people who've had problems, who may be incarcerated." Better help at the beginning, he said, would help them. The measure has garnered the support of a coalition of unions, parents and community groups in New Mexico.

Even if the bill does get through the House, Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith might not advance it. "They don't have the votes," he said, on a local television program. Smith's secretary said he was unavailable for comment Friday.

Smith has said he opposes the bill because the land grant is meant to be a rainy day fund.

Preschool has been in the national news ever since President Barack Obama proposed a new federally and state-funded preschool program for 4-year-olds in his State of the Union address.

According to Steve Barnett, an early childhood education expert who oversees Rutgers University's National Institute on Early Education Research, only one state -- Florida -- includes preschool in its constitution. But in that case, the law mentions only quality, not specific funding levels. "An amendment required them to provide high-quality preschool at accepted professional standards and has all this language, but it's completely ignored in reality," Barnett said. New Jersey's constitution states that the "legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools for the instruction of all the children in the State between the ages of five and eighteen years."

The constitutional amendment wouldn't specify what type of early care the funds would pay for -- rather, the money would be divvied up by the state legislature for preschool, prenatal care, child care subsidies and home visits .

Esteli Juarez-Boyd, a 29-year-old Albuquerque mother of three, is hoping the bill moves. Her 8-year-old son went to preschool, but due to financial concerns and New Mexico narrowing eligibility for child care subsidies, her 5-year-old, Tony, did not.

The differences between the two children are stark: By the time he entered kindergarten, her older son could spell his name and count to 50. Tony can spell his name, but doesn't know what capital letters are -- and he can only count to 25.

"My 5-year-old starts school this July but he's not owing to pick it up as quickly as my 8-year-old," Juarez-Boyd said. "He has spent the last seven months at home instead of in the classroom."

She is now one of 4,500 parents on the waiting list for state-sponsored early childhood education. And outside of her own household, she feels that early education funding would "create a better relationship with education earlier to help curb the dropout rate."

UPDATE/CORRECTION: This story was updated to include news of the bill's passage and context about education in New Jersey's constitution.

Ed Today: Diane Ravitch Launches Network For Public Education; Closure News In Philadelphia, Chicago, New York

Joy Resmovits   |   March 8, 2013    8:14 AM ET

Diane Ravitch's New Group On Wednesday morning, a group of education activists across the country -- including Leonie Haimson, Anthony Cody, and Diane Ravitch, the fierce historian-cum-reform-fighter -- announced the launch of the Network for Public Education. The group aims to fight off state advocacy groups such as StudentsFirst and Democrats for Education Reform that push a particular school-related agenda including charter schools and teacher evaluations based, in part, on student test scores. Ravitch told Politics K12 that the group plans to endorse specific candidates, but won't be donating to them -- unlike the groups they're fighting.

How is it funded? According to a spreadsheet of funders Cody sent me yesterday, all the donations are pretty small from some names that are familiar in the space. By Wednesday at around 10 a.m., the group's largest donation was $250. "The total, four hours post launch, is $3155, and about 90 donors," he said in an email at the time. By 4 p.m., that number was up to $4,000, Cody the Times.

As for the unions -- Randi tweeted her support, but I'm waiting to hear back from the National Education Association to see where they stand.

Union Leader Handcuffed? Last night, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers union, was arrested for protesting school closures by blocking the entrance of a School Reform Commission meeting in Philadelphia, as we report. Weingarten told me that she was denied meetings with the state's governor and the city's mayor, so the protest -- which she knew would result in arrest -- was a "last resort" to prevent school closures, what she sees as "immoral" actions.

The SRC is ultimately recommending 23 school closures, reduced from 37 in the commission's original recommendation. But if this is how the AFT reacts to closures of that scale, I'm curious to see what the union does in Chicago, a city that is considering closing up to 80 schools this year.

Closure Report In Chicago The commission advising Chicago Public Schools on closures has released its final report, saying that up to 80 schools can be justifiably closed. Their criteria, according to the Tribune: there have to be better options for kids to attend and that students are safe. If Chicago comes close to 80, it would be the largest wave of school closures in all of U.S. history, as far as I know.

Meanwhile In New York... New York City, the nation's largest school district, is also deciding which and how many schools to close this year. According to NY1, the city removed two schools from its 'phase-out' list yesterday, sparing them from closure. "According to the DOE [Department of Education], both schools were able to prove that they are improving academically," NY1 writes.

Teachers' Union Leader Handcuffed For Protest

Joy Resmovits   |   March 7, 2013    6:23 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, was arrested Thursday afternoon for blocking a school reform hearing in Philadelphia, an AFT spokesperson told The Huffington Post.

Weingarten reportedly stood outside the meeting of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, in which the group was supposed to decide which Philadelphia Public Schools would close. Weingarten, whose AFT is the second-largest teachers' union in the country, made a surprise visit to fight school closures.

AFT spokesman Marcus Mrowka told The Huffington Post that Weingarten was arrested with 18 other community activists for blocking the entrance to the meeting. He added that Weingarten was in handcuffs.

[Scroll down to read the UPDATES.]

The Philadelphia police department would not confirm the arrest, because the protest was ongoing. "I don't have any information at this point and probably won't until it's all dispersed," Lieutenant John Stanford said when reached by phone.

"There was a rally outside the building and they were probably blocking the entrance for about 20 minutes until police arrested them and escorted them away," Mrowka said. "She's in custody now."

Weingarten and teachers' unions throughout the country have protested school closure as a tool for reforming schools. Currently, the nation's largest cities are deciding which schools to close in a purported effort to save money and improve academic outcomes. But research shows that it's hard for school districts to recoup the closure savings they project, and a study from the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute found that only 6 percent of students displaced by closed schools performed better in their new academic environments.

Activists have also protested school closures on civil rights grounds, saying that they disproportionately affect black and Hispanic families.

"Kids have suffered cut after cut," Weingarten said at the protest, according to Mrowka's notes. "The powers that be don't care about opportunity for children."

"The people of Philadelphia have come up with a plan to improve schools and it has been ignored," Weingarten said, according to Mrowka.

Chicago, which also employs AFT teachers, is currently considering what would be the largest wave of school closures in its history. On Wednesday, the city's "Commission on School Utilization" issued its final report, which concluded that Chicago Public Schools could shutter about 80 schools. It found that "closing schools and moving students … are only justifiable if, as a result, students are moved into better educational environments," echoing the UEI research. The report also concluded that "CPS has a responsibility to ensure … the safety of students who are being moved."

UPDATE: At around 8:15 p.m., Weingarten tweeted that she had been released from custody, saying: "we must continue the fight for fixing&ensuring great public schools for all kids-in Philly &US."

UPDATE: 9:25 p.m. -- In an interview following her release, Weingarten said she knew blocking the meeting would get her arrested, but she saw it as a last resort. Along with a community group, Weingarten said she had vainly tried to get a meeting with the SRC and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.

"They refused to listen and would not even consent to a meeting with us," Weingarten said. (Nutter and the SRC could not be reached late Thursday.) Even during strike conditions in Chicago, Weingarten said she was able to converse with the other side.

Weingarten said she sees the school closure plan as siphoning money away from public schools, since the plan doesn't touch charter schools. "This was really a plan to eliminate public education," Weingarten said. "This is not about how to fix public schools, but to close them -- not how to stabilize but to destabilize public schooling."

Weingarten called the closings immoral. "When the powers that be ignore you and dismiss you, then you don't have any choice but try to resort to civil disobedience to try to confront an immoral act," she said.

So she joined parents and union activists to form a group of 19 people who blocked the entrance to the meeting. She said she intentionally told Philly teachers not to join, lest they lose their teaching certification, and discouraged parents who are undocumented immigrants from participating.

"The road to justice is long and the fight is not over tonight," Weingarten said. "Some schools were saved tonight, but at the end of the day, what I am told is that by all of us doing this together, reflecting on all the four corners of the community, people throughout the country are talking about it."

Ed Today: Michelle Rhee Group Opens South Carolina Outfit; Common Core Supporters Strike Back

Joy Resmovits   |   March 7, 2013    7:44 AM ET

Michelle Rhee Sets Up Shop In SC StudentsFirst, the former D.C. chancellor's national lobbying group, is branching out into South Carolina, reports the Post and Courier. The paper notes that SC received a "D" grade on SF's recent policy report card -- not exactly stellar. On the group's SC agenda: turnarounds, teacher evaluations, charter school accountability, and the parent trigger.

Oh, and here's how one Carolina teacher reacted to the news. Though it should be noted that the SF teacher fellow quoted by the P&C was more positive.

Different Goals For Different Races? Under No Child Left Behind waivers, 34 states have been approved to have accountability plans that differ from the blunt yardstick of adequate annual yearly progress ("AYP") as determined by the law. In fact, as you can see on this map created by Education Nation, many states have different academic goals for different races or ethnic groups. This variation set off major alarm bells in places like Virginia last year. Apparently, the map sets the stage for an NBC Nightly News segment on the issue.

New Mexico Tosses School Grades? Lawmakers in New Mexico think the state's school-grading formula is "an inaccurate mess," according to the Current-Argis, so they voted to scrap it and replace it with a new one. Now, standardized tests constitute 90 percent of a school's grade -- a number too high for some senators.

Anti-Common Core Fight Slows In Alabama? A vote to scrap Alabama's participation in the Common Core standards, a set of learning goals most states have adopted, has been delayed, reports Why the wait? "To give people on both sides of the issue more time to get unconfused," the site reports.

Meanwhile In Florida... Pols down south don't think they can make the Common Core deadlines, reports the Tampa Bay Times. "Many teachers have not been trained. The FCAT's successor is still being developed," the paper reports. "State officials have yet to figure out how it will mesh with Florida's school accountability system."

And In Indiana... National advocacy group Stand for Children is going to the mat to protect the Common Core in the Hoosier state. The push includes TV and radio advertisements.

Ed Today: John Legend On Education; North Dakota Withdraws No Child Left Behind Waiver Request

Joy Resmovits   |   March 5, 2013    9:48 AM ET

John Legend, Saving Your Schools? Musician John Legend appeared at USC last night to promote his education reform agenda, according to the Daily Trojan. "If we think demography is destiny, we will allow our school system to confirm that belief," Legend said, echoing basically the entire reform movement. He serves on the board education advocacy group Stand for Children.

Waiver Withdrawal? North Dakota is withdrawing the application it wrote to the Obama administration get out of the strictures of the No Child Left Behind Act, reports the Bismark Tribune. North Dakota was one of the late waiver applicants. I remember calling the state to find out their status over the summer, and Wayne Sanstead, who was state superintendent at the time, told me he was readying an application but looking forward to his retirement. Now, Kirsten Baesler, Sanstead's replacement, is withdrawing it. As of last week, the U.S. Education Department hadn't approved the request. "The further we progressed through the waiver process, the more we felt we were being asked to adopt another national, one-size-fits-all model of education," Baesler said, according to the Trib. Unclear what this means for the Obama administration.

Jindal's Reforms Overruled Yesterday, a Republican Baton Rouge judge struck down Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's 2012 education reform law, as we report. It marks the second judicial blow to Jindal's education agenda, following the overrule of his school voucher program a few months ago.

Sequester Effects? As U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan walks back his words on teachers pink slipped by sequester-related layoffs in a West Virginia county, school districts heavily dependent on the federal government -- which means school districts that either serve military or Native American kids -- are already dealing with cuts. The sequester follows years of cuts to state education budgets. As one superintendent told me, "There is never any fluff after you've already cut $15 million."

**Extra Credit**
Is Sequestration The New Normal For Education Budgets?
Yet another education bill filed in Iowa.

Jindal's Education Reform Package Second To Be Struck Down By Court

Joy Resmovits   |   March 4, 2013    5:59 PM ET

Months after a court struck down Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) school voucher program, the Republican star is suffering another major judicial blow to his education agenda. On Monday, a Baton Rouge judge threw out Jindal's major education-reform package, reports the Associated Press.

The 2012 law ended the practice of firing teachers in reverse order of their seniority, a major win for the reform crowd. It also made it harder for teachers to get tenure, required that the state schools chief review all school superintendent contracts, and pulled back on the power of local school boards.

Republican Judge Michael Caldwell had previously upheld most of the law after overruling the piece that limited the school boards. But after re-reading the bill at the behest of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Caldwell threw the whole bill out on Monday, according to the AP. The national teachers' union rejoiced at the news.

Like the voucher ruling, the decision here is more technical rather than an evaluation of the merits of these policies as they relate to Louisiana's schools. This fact was not lost on Jindal, who plans to appeal the ruling. "While the ruling does not judge the substance of the law, we're disappointed that the court reversed its original ruling," he said in a statement according to the AP. "We expect to prevail in the state Supreme Court."

In a December engagement in Washington, D.C., Jindal defended his vouchers on similar grounds -- despite the fact that many of the Louisiana private schools that opened their doors to public school students under the program have been discredited for things like teaching about the existence of the mythical Loch Ness beast, or stating that they have no services for students with certain disabilities. "We're taking our fight to the Supreme Court, and I'm confident that we'll prevail," Jindal said at the time.

When I asked Jindal why he was so confident, he said, "It's clearly legal and clearly the intent is that we fund children's education and not bricks and mortars."

UPDATE 6:25 P.M. Jindal's press office was kind enough to send over the full text of the governor's statement. You can read it for yourself below.

While the ruling does not judge the substance of the law, we're disappointed that the Court reversed its original ruling. We expect to prevail in the state Supreme Court. When we embarked on this path of reform, we knew this would not be an easy fight because the coalition of the status quo is entrenched and has worked to hold Louisiana teachers and students back for decades. Despite the fact that the people of Louisiana voted for reform, the coalition of the status quo is attempting to use every legal obstruction to block reforms that reward good teachers and give more choices to families.

We know that the families and teachers of our state deserve better. On behalf of the people of Louisiana that voted for reform, the good teachers who are working hard every day but are being held back by the status quo, and the parents and kids who deserve a choice - we will continue fighting and we are confident that we will prevail.

UPDATE 10:00

The nation's second largest teachers' union, the American Federation of Teachers, just issued a cheerful statement about the ruling from AFT President Randi Weingarten:

Judge Caldwell's decision upholds the rule of law in Louisiana and should be a wake-up call to so-called reformers determined to ram through top-down dictates that undermine the voice of educators and public schools at all costs. Breaking laws has consequences.

Louisiana needs to develop education reforms in a lawful manner and with teachers. The best way to develop legislation that will actually improve teacher quality and student achievement is to work collaboratively with teachers, who are in the classrooms every day and are closest to the students. States and school districts that recognize the importance of teacher input have developed innovative, smart education reforms that are making a difference for all students.

Military Schools Already Laying Off Teachers Due To Sequestration

Joy Resmovits   |   March 4, 2013    5:37 PM ET

When President Barack Obama signed an executive order Friday night mandating across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration, Henry Strom, the superintendent of public schools in Mt. Adams, Wash., was prepared. But the preparations hurt.

Mt. Adams serves Washington's Yakima Reservation -- many of its students are Native Americans who live in poverty. That means that unlike most U.S. school districts, Strom counts on a funding stream straight from the federal government, called "Impact Aid," to pay for one-fifth of his budget. This school year, Strom cut five teachers and five assistants -- small cuts that feel big in a tiny rural district that only has 63 teachers to begin with. "We've had challenges covering the playground," Strom said. "There were a few times when we were lean on safety."

Impact Aid is supposed to make up for decreased property taxes in school systems based on federal land. So the school districts that rely on the funding most significantly often serve large swathes of Native American children and the children of military personnel. While the cuts to most federal education funding streams such as Title I for poor students or special education money won't go into effect until next school year, Department of Defense schools and school districts relying on Impact Aid lost out over the weekend, with the stroke of Obama's pen.

Some, like Strom, have been preparing for these cuts ever since they knew they were a possibility. But the cuts are particularly painful as more and more is expected from teachers and schools in terms of student performance. "We're very challenged for student achievement in Mt. Adams," Strom said. Mt. Adams' schools rank in the third tier of academic performance within Washington's school accountability system. "We've done a lot of work on the educational side, trying to have solid assessments, instruction and curriculum -- all those things are in place from the previous years," he said. "But if you bring in sequestration and have to reduce staffing, it challenges the work we've done in previous years."

For example, Mt. Adams had introduced an intervention program for low-performing students in middle school, making sure that underperforming students got more class time to zero in on what they needed. "That had to go," Strom said, because of sequestration -- and test scores dropped slightly, when before the cut they had started to increase. And since Strom's district is high-poverty, it depends on the federal government for 80 percent of its budget, some of which will likely be cut next school year due to sequestration -- meaning things could get worse for Strom's students.

Unlike Strom, the Department of Defense schools still don't know exactly how the cuts are going to shake out. Department of Defense Education Activity schools serve 84,304 students in 126 international schools and 68 schools in the U.S. They employ 15,304 staffers, including 8,341 teachers. "DoDEA is reviewing all areas of its budget for potential savings," Commander Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Defense Department spokeswoman, told HuffPost in an email. "As we continue to closely review the DODEA's budget on how to most effectively implement the furlough, we are committed to mitigating the impact of sequestration on our students." A Jan. 31 memo signed by DoDEA director Marilee Fitzgerald said that "we advised that we would consider a furlough of up to 30 calendar days or 22 discontinuous workdays along with other actions, such as imposing hiring freezes and releasing temporary employees for above-school level operations."

But getting those 22 days in before the quickly-approaching end of the school year would be hard for many schools, especially those that are helping students prepare for Advanced Placement exams and end-of-year standardized tests. While in the past school districts have shortened the school year to make up for budget shortfalls, federal guidelines strongly encourage agencies to issue discontinuous furlough days to mitigate their impact on employees and services.

"Any furlough days will hurt the children's education completely," said Michael Priser, president of the Federal Education Association union, a group that advocates for such teachers. "Many of their parents are fighting wars in Afghanistan while their kids' education is about to get hurt."

In other immediately impacted districts, the sequester comes on top of years of other cuts. Greg Lynch is the superintendent of Central Kitsap schools in Washington, an Impact Aid district that serves the Kitsap Navy Base. Central Kitsap has over 10,000 students, 48 percent of which are connected to the military. Over the last five years, Lynch has reduced the budget by $15 million -- cutting corners and squeezing the margins in an effort to not cut into classroom teaching. "It's been a perfect storm for us," Lynch said. But Lynch says he's cut so much there's not much else he can snip without hurting that core. "There is nothing we can do without touching the classroom. There is never any fluff after you've already cut $15 million."

Sequestration would cost Lynch $450,000 -- half immediately from Impact Aid, and half from programs like Title I -- which comes out to roughly the cost of 7.5 teaching salaries. "We've reduced interventions before and after school and summer opportunities -- a loss for kids who need additional attention," Lynch said. He has also had over a week of furlough days over the last few years. Like Strom, he's had to deal with the "moral dilemma" of increasing expectations and decreasing budgets. "We're all coming up short of where we want to be," he said.

On Monday, the superintendents of school districts that rely significantly on federal aid went to Washington, D.C. to attend a conference and to lobby Congress to stop the sequester before the next school year starts. Among them was Billy Walker, the superintendent of Texas' Randolph Field Independent School District, which serves the children of Randolph Air Force Base staff. Walker cut 13 positions out of last year's budget and one more this year.

"We didn't take our band and cheerleaders to football games," Walker said. "We're in the process right now for finding similar cuts. We're trying to determine what sequestration is really going to be for next year, but we really don't know."

Are you a federal employee who received a furlough notice? Please send it to us at We will keep your personal information private.

SNL: 'Good Luck Reading Beowulf, You Monsters'

Joy Resmovits   |   March 4, 2013    8:24 AM ET

SNL Takes On Sequester.. On Friday night, President Barack Obama signed an executive order activating the across-the-board spending cuts known as "sequestration" that came as a result of an ongoing political budget standoff. Saturday Night Live explains the sequester, having an Obama impersonator bring up examples of folks affected by these cuts. Start at 1:15 to see a Philadelphia public schools teacher who was supposedly laid off. (Hint: The glee of her reaction to leaving that job is off message for Obama's grim tone. "Good luck reading Beowulf, you monsters," she says.)

Reform War's Next Battle: West Virginia? West Virginia Gov. Ray Tomblin's effort to revamp teacher hiring and firing systems are reminiscent of the education reform fights that have gripped our collective attention in states such as New York and California over the last few years. As the Associated Press reports, Tomblin wants to de-emphasize the importance of seniority in making hiring and firing determinations and transfers.

Seattle Teacher Boycott Check In Remember those Seattle teachers who were boycotting the MAP, a nationally-normed standardized test? Well, Reuters checks in on them to find that they're still at the center of the ongoing national debate about the role about standardized testing in public schools.

L.A. Elections Get The Times Treatment The New York Times weighs in on the expensive and heated Los Angeles school board elections. "The outcome of the political fight for the school board seats will have a profound impact on the direction of the nation's second-largest school district," the Times reports. "But the clash has also become a sort of test case for those who want to overhaul public education, weakening the power of the teachers' union, pushing for more charter schools and changing the way teachers are hired and fired."

**Extra Credit**
"Gifted Class Imbalance"

Sequester Would Hurt Students In Special Ed

Joy Resmovits   |   February 28, 2013    7:29 AM ET

Teresa Armstrong is steamed. 

The Virginia mother of four has spent the last few weeks watching, reading and listening to politicians argue about the country's finances but fail to reach a deal to prevent impending across-the-board cuts to federal spending. She doesn't understand how they can bicker endlessly while the consequences for her daughter, Angela, hang in the balance.

The squabbling politicians, Armstrong said, aren't setting a good example for children. "It's like they just don't understand that their lack of agreement has real-time effects on people's lives," she said. "People here are describing it as an educational Pearl Harbor -- you just don't know what will happen."

Under sequestration, which is scheduled to go into effect Friday, federal education spending would be reduced significantly. Special-education students in particular would take a huge hit, with Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funding slated to lose $591 million over 10 years. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been barnstorming cable talk shows and White House press briefings, calling these blind cuts "dumb." And even though most of the school cuts wouldn't take place until the 2013-14 academic year, school districts have already been thrown into chaos as they budget for September. 

What's often lost amid the arguing is the fate of people like Angela, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome as a young kid. Angela is now 14 and in the seventh grade at J. Michael Lunsford Middle School in Loudoun County, Va., where she receives special-education services that her mother describes as "essential." With the school's help, Angela "dances her way through the day," Armstrong said, switching between general and self-contained classes. She's learned how to read, write and type. 

Angela is now due for special-education eligibility testing -- she was last evaluated in 2004. But school district officials have told Armstrong they're not sure when or if they can schedule the expensive battery that's supposed to test her child's intellectual progress. "I'm concerned there will be a lack of funding and teachers available to administer the tests, and to provide these services," Armstrong said from her car, as Angela listened to Taylor Swift on her headphones. "I haven't been able to get a lot of answers -- a no, or a yes -- from the school district."

The confusion is getting to Armstrong. "They're encouraging me to go with less formal testing, but I don't want that," she said. "But on the other hand, what are they supposed to do?"

As in Armstrong's case, the sequester's cuts would push school districts further from parents, says Laura Kaloi, the public policy director for the National Council on Learning Disabilities. "Resources are always tight, so cuts will create further tension between what parents think their kids need and what schools think they can offer," Kaloi said. "There's the risk that they can reduce the number of students schools will consider for evaluation and eligibility determinations."

The budget fight has gotten personal for Mary Kusler, a longtime lobbyist for the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union. Her nephew, Cody, of central Texas, has severe autism, and she faces the same worries as Armstrong. "I worry about the impact of his services, given the overall lack of funding going to Texas public schools to begin with," Kusler said. "We shouldn't be short-changing these kids because Congress can't come to an agreement." The IDEA cut, she adds, would bring spending back to 2008 levels.

While the bulk of education spending in the United States comes from state and property tax bases, the most vulnerable children have long relied on the federal government. It is these kids who will be hit hardest by the sequester's cuts, advocates say. Duncan expressed those sentiments at a White House briefing Wednesday, where he said he'll be forced to cut Title I money for poor children and money for special education students.

"People say, what if you had more discretion?" Duncan said. "Those two pots together," he continued, "they dwarf anything else. So the only choice I could make would be to hurt fewer poor children and help more special needs kids, or do the opposite. ... There's no good answer."

There's also been no good answer for Heather Herakovic, a mother in Trumbull County, Ohio. Her 5-year-old son has a severe speech disability, but with the help of Head Start, a federally-funded private pre-school program, he's been able to repeat some words. He can't say words on his own, still -- when he tries to say "help," it comes out without the "h" and the "p."

Her son is slated to enter kindergarten next year, and Herakovic is worried that after the education cuts, he won't be able to get the extra help he needs from a speech therapist. "He'd be able to go to kindergarten, but I don't know if anyone would be able to understand him," she said.

And if those services stop, that's it. Herakovic can't afford to pay for a private speech therapist. Even if she could, she would not be able to reach one -- her husband uses the family's only car and returns with it at 9:00 p.m. "It makes me angry," she said. "I feel like we just don't matter. Some people in Congress, they're bullies -- if you don't do exactly what they want, they're going to screw your kids."

Ed Today: School Safety Addressed At House Education Committee Hearing; Arne Duncan's Sequestration Hype

Joy Resmovits   |   February 28, 2013    6:39 AM ET

House Education Panel On School Safety On Wednesday, members of the House Education & Workforce Committee mulled over ways to keep schools safe in light of the horrific Newtown, Conn. elementary school shooting, reports Politics K-12. Witnesses told the committee that "school resource officers, additional guidance counselors, and professional development for educators can help schools head off tragedies," the blog reports. But there was next to no conversation about gun control. Hmmm.

Arne Duncan, Fact-Checked The Washington Post's fact checker gives U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan four Pinocchios for his remarks on teachers in a West Virginia county getting pink slipped -- already -- in light of sequestration. The Post found no news reports about these pink slips before learning that these were just "transfer notices," sent to Title I teachers unrelated to the upcoming across-the-board cuts. And the Head Start layoffs Duncan's staff referred to in that county? They're getting canned because under the Education Department's new re-competition rules, their Head Start center isn't getting renewed.

Wyoming Wants A Waiver Wyoming announced that it, too, will seek a waiver from No Child Left Behind as the law's performance deadlines approach, reports the Star Tribune. Officials say the state's school accountability system already aligns with what the federal government is looking for in these waivers. Already, the Education Department has approved waivers for 34 states. G'luck!

Chicago Reprimands Six Charter Schools Chicago Public Schools added six charter schools to its list of underperforming schools, a move that shocked charter operators, reports WBEZ. They had only hours of notice before their "warning list" status went public. The status means the district will review their charters once every year, rather than once every few years -- probably a good move on the accountability front. One charter school issued a statement saying ""it is impossible for charter schools to meet a moving target of accountability, or effectively participate in a constantly shifting process. Four CPS administrations in five years have continuously moved the goal posts." 

Expensive L.A. Races? As we've previously reported, the Los Angeles school board races are getting mighty expensive, to the tune of $3.4 million. And the pro-charter folks are outspending the union thus far. What's going on? Here, bi-coastal gadfly Alexander Russo has a rundown of "what's really happening" in LaLaLand schools. "Not all of the union's spending seems to be reported and accounted for," Russo writes. "As good as the disclosure requirements are in LA, it's a self-reported system and there have been a handful of times where UTLA-PACE, the independent expenditure committee that funds the campaigns, hasn't reported things that seem like campaign activity, or has transferred funding between different IE accounts in ways that are hard to explain and may not match up as they should."

Amy Wilkins Starts At College Board Civil rights and education activist Amy Wilkins is stepping into a new civil rights position at the College Board, as we report. The SATs were first created to help level the college admissions playing field for students from all backgrounds and incomes. But critics contend that the goal has been sullied by test-preparation opportunities that benefit wealthier students. "These students are within our care, and we observe patterns that are unequal," College Board president David Coleman told me. "We are going to act to ensure that these kids have the opportunities they need."

**Extra Credit**
"Clearing Up Misunderstandings with 'Getting the Facts Right on Pre-K'"

SAT Creators Make Civil Rights Hire

Joy Resmovits   |   February 27, 2013    3:27 PM ET

The College Board, the organization best known for bringing you the SATs and Advanced Placement exams, is trying to branch out -- into civil rights work.

The SATs were first created to help level the college admissions playing field for students from all backgrounds and incomes. But critics contend that the goal has been sullied by test-preparation opportunities that benefit wealthier students.

Now, David Coleman, the organization's recently installed president, told The Huffington Post that he's creating a new position called a "senior fellow for social justice," which will function as a "strong internal and external advocate."

"The resources will be substantial," Coleman said Wednesday. Although he didn't offer a precise dollar figure, he said "it is to be counted in the millions."

The new direction comes as the College Board redesigns the college entrance exam to "align it more deeply with the work [that] kids are doing in school so there doesn't need to be last-minute preparation outside the schoolhouse," Coleman said. "We must be very cautious that forces like test preparation or other forces do not unequal this playing field."

Amy Wilkins will be filling the new position. She served as vice president for the Education Trust for 16 years and has worked at organizations such as the Children's Defense Fund, the Peace Corps and the Democratic National Committee. Wilkins is a prominent education and civil-rights lobbyist and advocate, having launched campaigns on saving Pell Grants and shaped aspects of the Higher Education Act and No Child Left Behind.

"For me, it is a perfect place to be to advance an agenda about low-income kids and kids of color," Wilkins said. "They [the College Board] touch them more directly than I was ever able to ... at EdTrust."

Coleman and Wilkins are both interested in addressing the issue that low-income and minority students often attend universities that are far less selective than those they qualify for -- what one College Board official described as the "distressing results" for minority students on AP exams.

Wilkins said she'll need some time to work with her new colleagues to develop her specific plans, but for now, there are clear issues of inequity she's targeting. "I want to find black kids who should be in AP classes but aren't and get them in," she said. "There's lots in that data that needs to be acted on. If they're in the mood to act, so am I." Eventually, she said, she wants to work with Coleman to create metrics of success for the College Board around closing some of these gaps.

"These students are within our care, and we observe patterns that are unequal," Coleman said. "We are going to act to ensure that these kids have the opportunities they need."

Wilkins' last day at EdTrust was Friday, and she anticipates her new job will be a huge change. "For all of my life [I've been] trying to make government behave in different ways vis-a-vis poor kids and kids of color," she said. "This is about unleashing the power of another institution. It's the first time in my life I won't be trying to shove government around."

"I may have a little bit of lobbyist's withdrawal," she added.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat of the House Education and Workforce Committee, offered praise for Wilkins. "Low-income kids are always at risk of being left out of the policy conversation, but Amy has made sure that they aren’t forgotten," he said in a statement. "Hers is a distinctive voice for an essential cause."

Wilkins is so outspoken that at her EdTrust goodbye party last week, she was sent off with a presentation of "things only Amy Wilkins can get away with saying," sources said. The presentation included quotes from her about the way the White House has approached education, something she previously discussed with HuffPost.

"The Bush administration established a new federal state relationship in education," she said in an earlier interview. "It's a little bit Nixon goes to China, having a Republican, number one, expand the federal role, but number two, do it on behalf of poor kids and kids of color. [With] Obama, you have another moment where political stereotypes don't work. He's a Democrat, he's an African American, and what does he do? He returns a lot of control to the states. He does what he might expect Bush to do, Bush does what we might expect Obama to do. We've had a huge swap in education stereotypes."

Ed Today Sequestration In Your Schools? Mexico Teachers Union Leader Busted

Joy Resmovits   |   February 27, 2013    8:30 AM ET

What's Sequestration, And Why Should You Care About It? The good folks at Politics K-12 have a lengthy, 12-part explainer on sequestration and schools.

Union Leader Busted In Mexico? The head of Mexico's teachers union has been detained for embezzlement charges, reports the Associated Press. Plastic surgery, a private plane and Neiman Marcus -- these are things the government is alleging that union chief Elba Esther Cordillo paid for with union funds. Yikes!

More Common Core Resistance? Over at the Washington Post, Valerie Strauss has started a series of guest posts featuring opponents of the Common Core State Standards in states such as Indiana and Alabama that are rebelling against the learning tools they once adopted. The first one features Indiana's Russ Pulliam, who says "[Glenda] Ritz soundly defeated the state's biggest advocate of Common Core, Tony Bennett. Republican leaders in the General Assembly will ignore that election result at their future political peril."

Worse Than A Snow Day? Yesterday, 60 students and their teachers were stranded at a Colorado high school during a blizzard, reports ABC. But don't worry, they're all safe and they have supplies!

Introducing CSTUY Meet Mike Zamansky. He's a teacher at New York City's storied Stuyvesant High School who, according to BetaBeat, has been "lobbying for more rigorous computer science training in the city's public schools" for the last several years. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been tossing around some science and technology initiatives for schools, but Zamansky thinks that "the cooler endgame would be having teachers that know technology." He's taking things into his own hands by launching CSTUY, a program that would expand his schoolwide programing across the city.

KIPP To The Top? As we report, the learning advantage the Knowledge Is Power Program charter school network provides students has been reaffirmed by yet another study. But some still ask, is it scalable?

**Extra Credit**
"Only Half Of First-Time College Students Graduate Within Six Years"