ED approves 16 state teacher equity plans
The Department of Education (ED) approved 16 state plans designed to ensure equitable access to excellent educators. The states are Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Missouri, Minnesota, New York, Nevada, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wisconsin. ED asked all states for such plans in November 2014 citing ESEA Section 1111(b)(8)(C) which requires that plans under Title I describe the steps states will take "to ensure that poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers."
In a statement announcing the approvals, ED applauded strategies taken by various states in their equity plans, including: strengthening teacher preparation programs; improving school leadership; providing financial incentives designed to improve retention at high-need schools; and eliminating teacher shortages. The state plans and approval letters can be found on ED's resource page. Additional plan approvals will be made on a rolling basis.
Administration seeks to include teachers in training in HQT definition
The White House is asking Congress to continue including teachers pursuing an alternative route to certification in the ESEA definition of a highly qualified teacher (HQT). The administration wants the inclusion attached to any continuing resolution that would keep the government running while Congress debates larger budget issues. The special rule was first passed by Congress in 2010 when it unexpectedly overturned a 2010 decision by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Renee v. Duncan. In that decision, aimed in part at ensuring equitable distribution of highly qualified teachers, the federal court held that teachers with "intern credentials" under California law were not highly qualified.
Washington Supreme Court rules charter law unconstitutional
On September 4, 2015, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled the state's charter school law in violation of the state's constitution. The Court based its decision in League of Women Voters v. Washington on its conclusion that charter schools under the terms of the state's law are not common schools. The Court further concluded that a state constitution provision stipulating that "the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools" prohibits the charter law funding provisions, which "tap into and shift a portion of moneys allocated for common schools to the new charter schools authorized by the Act."
The Court found that charter schools are "devoid of local control from their inception to their daily operation," noting that Washington's independent charter agency has authority to establish charter schools anywhere in the state, and that charter schools are not governed by elected school boards, but rather by a board appointed or selected under the terms of a charter application to manage and operate the school. The Washington Education Association, which opposed the November 2012 ballot initiative establishing the charter law, was a party to the case on the prevailing side. Whether other state charter laws could be subject to similar challenges depends on the provisions of each state's constitution.
Funding for nine Washington charter schools had been approved. The Washington charter lobby disagreed with the decision, stating its view that charter schools are public schools entitled to public funding. It will seek to operate the schools through other funding options, including private funding. At the federal level, NEA has advocated that states accepting federal charter expansion funding must require that their charter schools comply with open school board meetings applicable to other taxpayer-funded schools in the state, and supports local school boards as the sole eligible charter authorizers under state charter laws.
Report calls out education policies disenfranchising communities of color
Linking the weakening of local elected school governance and the long-term underinvestment in public education to the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act in the ongoing struggle to secure political equality, the Alliance to Reclaim our Schools (AROS) in August released a report Out of Control: The Systematic Disenfranchisement of African American and Latino Communities Through School Takeovers. The report profiles school restructuring developments in Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit, Newark, Little Rock, Milwaukee, Tennessee, Georgia and Nevada. Each involves state takeover of local school districts in Black and Latino communities or the proliferation through state and federal policy of charter schools, which lack elected school boards and are privately managed, often by corporate chains with no ties to or long-term stake in the local community.
The report rejects claims by advocates of these reforms claiming they are producing a renaissance in academic achievement, asserting harmful impacts including the loss of community-based institutions, increased segregation of students and families, increased public school district financial instability, and accountability-impeding fragmentation of school governance (noting that New Orleans now has 44 separate governing authorities over its schools, while Detroit has at least 45). As an alternative to improve educational quality and opportunities for students in Black and Latino communities, the report recommends a model for sustainable community schools that includes: an engaging, challenging, and culturally relevant curriculum; an emphasis on high-quality teaching, not high-stakes testing; wrap-around supports such as health care and counseling services available year-round to the full community; positive discipline practices; and transformational parent and community engagement in planning and decision making. AROS is "a national alliance of parent, youth and community organizations and labor groups fighting for educational justice and equity in access to school resources and opportunities." It presently includes nine organizations, including NEA.
Most NCLB waivers now renewed
Pennsylvania received an NCLB waiver renewal through the 2015-2016 school year, bringing the total number of approved waiver renewals to 38 out of the 42 jurisdictions with waivers. This leaves only Colorado, Louisiana and Texas waiting to hear as the school year begins. It appears that Illinois does not need a renewal for this year as the late approval of its original waiver, granted in April 2014, lasts through the end of the 2015-2016 school year. The final renewal decisions are expected in the coming weeks.
Congress is back from recess and is considering issues critical to education, including the ESEA reauthorization and the federal budget. Find out how you can help ensure that Congress gets ESEA right and gives public education the support it needs by visiting NEA's Legislative Action Center.