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Sattler: Approps Beats Reauthorization

Cheryl sattler headshot From Title I guru and new contributor Cheryl Sattler:

Who needs reauthorization when there's appropriations?

Last night, the Senate passed the appropriations conference report that funds, among many other things, education. The House passed it last week, so it now moves on to the White House for Obama's signature.

In the absence of an ESEA/NCLB (pick the one that offends you least) reauthorization, Congress has stepped in with a number of interesting new developments.

First, it appears that Congress backs the plan to use Title I school improvement funds in schools that, while eligible for Title I, do not receive Title I funds. These are largely middle and high schools – and under the State Stabilization Fund program, states will have to report just how many of these schools there are. Secondary school advocates have argued for years that middle and high schools are left out of Title I, the biggest K-12 funding source other than special education. The Obama administration’s push for higher graduation rates – and closing or reforming high schools known as “dropout factories” is likely to give this argument significant weight if, as is widely speculated, there is a reauthorization sometime soon. 

Another big change: Striving Readers isn't just for adolescents anymore. The appropriators provided $250 million to transform Striving Readers into a "new comprehensive literacy initiative from pre-K through grade 12 to help struggling students build their literacy skills and improve the integration of reading initiatives across the Department of Education.” This is a pretty big signal that this is probably the program that Congress intends to use to replace Reading First. 

The bill includes a smallish, but still important, new program: High School Graduation Initiative: $50 million for a new High School Graduation Initiative "to target assistance to high schools that disproportionately contribute to the nation’s dropout crisis, as proposed by the Administration.” With the Obama administration's focus on those dropouts (of which there are far too many), it will be interesting to see how these funds are used. 

And, start saying goodbye to the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program we've known. Now it's "Safe Schools and Citizenship Education." Funded at $393 million, Congress is making significant changes to this program at the request of the Department of Education. Most relevant to districts will be the $48 million program described by appropriators as “a School Culture and Climate initiative to support new approaches to helping schools foster safe, secure, and drug-free learning environments. These funds will support new competitive grant awards in two areas: (1) reducing the number of suspensions and expulsions related to student disruptive behavior and nonviolent offenses, and (2) reducing violent crime in schools, on school grounds, and on the way to and from school. Within the funding for this initiative, the conferees have included [funding for] all existing character education projects through the end of their grant cycle.” The Department will receive funding for a variety of national activities, and there are higher education activities within this funding stream as well. 
And yes, the appropriators answered that nagging question about whether districts that haven't made AYP can receive Investing In Innovation (i3) grants: they can.

 - Cheryl Sattler. (Cheryl L. Sattler, Ph.D., is a national expert on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and specializes in assisting districts with Title I and students in poverty. This post is excerpted from a periodic newsletter published by her firm, Ethica, LLC. Subscriptions (and tons of other useful information) are available here.

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