Senate Agriculture Committee Moves Forward on Reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act

Last month, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry unanimously passed bipartisan legislation—Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016—to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act/Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act for five years.

The bipartisan reauthorization in the Senate comes after years of debate on how to move forward with school nutrition standards—even though the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in October that 97% of schools were successfully meeting updated nutrition standards.

As part of the bipartisan compromise, the bill would keep the current fruits and vegetables requirement intact—that all students must have at least a half cup of fruits and vegetables with every federally funded school meal. However, grain and sodium requirements are expected to change through USDA’s rulemaking process (instead of the legislative process) before the next school year.

The new regulations for rulemaking would consist of delaying target 2 sodium restrictions in schools from school year (SY) 2017-2018 to 2019-2020 and lowering whole grain-rich requirements from 100% of grains served in schools to 80%. Although National PTA is not in favor of these changes, our association is still in support of the overall bill.

The bipartisan compromise preserves the progress made on school nutrition standards as well as school breakfast and lunch programs while keeping the child nutrition reauthorization process moving forward.

The bill also contains many key elements of the School Food Modernizations Act (S. 540)—that National PTA supported. The reauthorization bill would establish loan assistance and grant programs to help school districts upgrade their food service facilities and assist with staff training opportunities.

The Senate child nutrition reauthorization bill would also require studies on the effects of serving children healthy and nutritious meals at school, which include research and reviews of:

  • Nutrition education best practices
  • State training and technical assistance for schools to serve healthy school meals
  • Effects of selling varieties of milk on milk consumption at school
  • Target sodium requirements for schools and the effect on childrens’ health and school nutrition programs

The Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act is expected to move to the Senate floor for consideration in the coming months. The House Education and the Workforce Committee has not released their reauthorization of the child nutrition act yet and the possibility of the House taking up the Senate bill is still unclear.

Sign-up to receive our PTA Takes Action e-newsletter and follow @NationalPTA on Twitter for updates on the bill and information on other National PTA legislative priorities.


Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.

Department of Education Provides Guidance to Help Reduce and Improve Testing

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education released guidance to help states and districts improve the quality of assessments and eliminate redundant and misaligned tests. Of significance to PTA, the guidance encourages Title I schools to conduct assessment literacy nights to increase understanding and communication between families and schools about the use of assessments and how to use test results to support learning at home. Acting U.S. Secretary of Education, John B. King Jr., also released this video explaining more about the guidance.

National PTA acknowledges the important role that high-quality assessments play in promoting equity and improving the outcomes of all of our nation’s children. Assessments provide valuable information to parents, teachers and school leaders about the growth and achievement of their students. At the same time, National PTA recognizes the concerns many parents and educators have about the over-emphasis on testing and impact it has on student learning opportunities in the classroom. We applaud the Department’s guidance to help address the current challenges and provide actionable opportunities for states and districts to carry out the work of improving assessments.

The letter to Chief State School Officers by the Department of Education follows President Obama’s Testing Action Plan that was released in October 2015 and identifies key principles for good assessments. While the newly enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) encourages movement away from high stakes testing, the Department’s new document provides immediate opportunities for states and districts to take advantage of current federal resources to reduce testing and support more effective assessment systems since the new law will not take full effect until the 2017–2018 school year.

National PTA recognizes that many states are still working to implement high quality assessment systems that seek to provide valuable information to parents, teachers and school leaders about the growth and achievement of their students. The National PTA Board of Directors recently adopted a position statement on assessment that outlines several recommendations that were highlighted in the Department’s guidance such as auditing of assessment systems to reduce unnecessary tests, ensuring appropriate development, reliability and implementation of high quality assessments, clear and multiple means of communication and engagement with families on assessment, improving the timeliness and comprehension of assessment results, and providing adequate professional development to educators on assessment.

As stated in the PTA Board of Directors adopted position statement, National PTA believes a sound and comprehensive assessment system should include multiple measures of student growth and achievement that reflect the depth and breadth of knowledge and skills that students are expected to acquire, as well as their capacity to perform critical competencies. The association has long held that neither one test, nor a single data point should ever be the sole determinant of a student’s academic or work future. High-quality assessments play a vital role in providing valuable information to parents, students and teachers on student progress.


Jacki Ball is the director of government affairs at National PTA.

National School Choice Week: Truth about School Vouchers

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National School Choice Week is celebrated Jan. 24-30. We would like to present facts about school vouchers that are often misrepresented.

National PTA has a long-standing position against school vouchers and is an active member in the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE), which advocates for support of public education and against any attempts to divert federal funding to private schools.

While the term “school choice” encompasses many types of choice—including public charter and magnet schools—voucher proponents use this week as an opportunity to push for private school vouchers across the nation. But unlike public choice options, private school vouchers don’t offer meaningful choices to students or parents.

These voucher programs:

  • Take taxpayer dollars away from public schools
  • Fund private schools that are either too expensive for students to afford that lack resources and fewer opportunities than in public schools

Voucher programs funnel taxpayer money toward schools that are not obligated to follow the same standards as public schools. The D.C. voucher program, which some members of Congress are trying to reauthorize now, is a good example of this.

Since its adoption in 2004, the program has received almost $200 million for students to use to attend private schools. Yet, these private schools are not subject to the same standards of accountability, nondiscrimination or civil rights requirements that public schools must meet, including those in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, Title IV of the Civil Rights Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For all of those federal dollars spent, the D.C. voucher program does not produce a good return on investment. Studies of the D.C. voucher program conducted by the U.S. Department of Education have shown that vouchers do not improve educational achievement or opportunities for students in the program.

In fact, the department found that use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in reading or math, and that students in the program were significantly less likely to attend a school with an ESL program, learning support and special needs program, tutors, counselors, cafeteria, or nurse’s office.

Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a bill to reauthorize the D.C. voucher program, which will expire this year. While the Senate did not act on the bill in 2015, we expect to see supporters of the program continue to push for its reauthorization.

Congress may move to reauthorize the program in 2016 despite continuing opposition from the individuals who represent D.C., including Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and a majority of the D.C. City Council.

Looking ahead, we will continue to see vouchers pushed not just in Congress, but in the states. Last year, seven states passed voucher bills that either created or expanded existing programs.

School Choice Week is a great opportunity to draw attention to the reasons why private school vouchers are not in the best interest of students and families. Take the time to let your legislators know that you do not support private school vouchers and that they should oppose any attempt to create or expand private school voucher programs.


Jacki Ball is the director of government affairs at National PTA.

Finally Leaving NCLB behind?

Congress2We haven’t seen a comprehensive reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—the primary federal education law—this close to being signed into law since 2002.

Last week, Members of Congress in the House and Senate made a bipartisan agreement on a framework to reauthorize ESEA. The framework will be used to draft a final bill that will then be considered by all members of the House and Senate.

The expected final bill—now called The Every Student Succeeds Act—will be available to the public on Mon., Nov. 30. The House could vote on the final bill as early as Dec. 2, with the Senate to take it up the week of Dec. 7.

Hundreds of PTA members have advocated to include Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs) in the reauthorization and we are pleased to announce that these centers are included in this reauthorization framework.

The SFECs will provide targeted capacity-building and technical assistance for effective family engagement strategies where it’s needed the most. The proposed reauthorization also includes improvements to Title I, Section 1118, which requires school districts to establish family engagement plans and conduct family engagement activities.

If the final bill passes in Congress and is signed into law by President Obama, the new version of ESEA will include programs like preschool development grants and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which supports the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children in high-poverty and low-performing schools.

The reauthorization would also require:

  • States test students in grades 3-8 and once in high school in reading and math
  • Districts and states report assessment data by student subgroups to identify and help close achievement gaps
  • No public or private school portability (No Title I funds will be able to follow the child to the school of their choice) or voucher programs
  • Districts and states provide access to well-rounded educational opportunities for all students by increasing access to STEM education, the arts, and ensuring safe and healthy school environments

National PTA is pleased to see the reauthorization process continue to move forward after years of stagnation. We hope bipartisanship and progress will remain during the final stages of the legislative process. Children, families, teachers and school administrators are depending on congress to reauthorize the outdated No Child Left Behind law.

Follow National PTA on Twitter for the latest news on ESEA reauthorization.


Lindsay Kubatzky is the government affairs coordinator at National PTA.

Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline

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This week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered a speech on the need to invest in education instead of prisons to ensure that all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential. National PTA has a long history of advocating for policies to prevent children and youth from entering the juvenile justice system and to protect those currently in the system. If we provide the right investment and resources for our nation’s children, their families and schools—rather than jails—we will see better outcomes for our communities, society and the nation’s economy overall. We must stem this tide of the school-to-prison pipeline by making sure adults and schools are using disciplinary policies and practices that keep students in schools and out of the justice system. We must promote programs that encourage the use of evidence-based disciplinary practices, such as positive behavioral interventions, over zero-tolerance policies and out-of-school suspension practices. Further, we must promote effective family-focused, community-based solutions for our most troubled youth. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it makes plain economic sense. Let’s make a promise to trade the unsound prison investment for better schools and better communities for our children.

Take our teachers, for example. As research shows, access to high-quality teachers and educational opportunities leads to greater lifetime earnings and better health outcomes. According to the Department of Education, states and localities spend a total of $72 billion annually on correctional facilities while only $27 billion on teachers that work in high-poverty schools. Imagine the impact if we chose a different path and instead invested in a child’s future by ensuring they had a high-quality teacher.

Since 2010, cuts to education funding have approached an embarrassing and shameful $4 billion. There appears to be a severe misalignment of funding priorities when K-12 enrollment at public schools increases annually, but federal discretionary funding for education programs continues to decrease. Earlier this week was the close of fiscal year 2015 and the federal government barely beat the deadline to fund the government for 2016. Unfortunately, we find that the current congressional debate is not on how much we should invest in education, but how much to cut education.

We urgently call on our policy leaders to strategically invest to break the school-to-prison pipeline and ensure that each and every child reaches their potential. Secretary Duncan’s call for a shift in funding from prisons to our children’s education is exactly the realignment that our education system needs to provide students with the opportunity to succeed in school and beyond.


Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA

Getting it Right

shutterstock_11033293All states have renewed their efforts to give every child a quality education by evaluating, and in many cases, overhauling their state education standards. Many states have adopted College and Career Readiness Standards, some have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), some have opted for a hybrid of the CCSS and others have created their own entirely. Whichever standards your state uses, the goal is the same: to ensure that every child graduates high school ready for college or career. National PTA has resources for all states to help parents learn more about the standards.

New standards cannot stand alone. Each state must implement a robust action plan to ensure that the standards can be successful. National PTA, in partnership with the Learning First Alliance, has outlined five key areas where states—in partnership with schools, teachers and parents—should focus efforts in order to make their new standards successful.

  • Alignment of standards, curriculum and assessments—Once states and local communities institute standards that establish the knowledge and skills they believe students must learn, they must put in place curriculum and instructional programs that provide students with opportunities to learn the agreed-upon knowledge and skills.
  • Adequate professional development for teachers and principals—Teachers, principals and schools must have adequate time to understand and implement the standards. Teachers must have access to high-quality training and resources that enable them to successfully develop plans to teach the standards and adequate time with their peers to collaborate, brainstorm and learn best practices.
  • Sufficient resources and support for each child to meet high standards—When done right, standards set the goals and proper assessments (formative and summative) identify gaps in achievement. During the transition to College and Career Ready Standards, assessments play a vital role in helping schools and parents pay particular attention so students do not fall behind. States should plan to provide supports to assist teachers and students, especially those who struggle more to close the gap.
  • Ongoing communication about the importance of standards and accountability—This is the best area for PTA to lead in your state. PTA can facilitate communication between state leaders, district leaders, school personnel, teachers and parents. National PTA has created a wealth of resources to help parents understand the new standards and assessments. The Learning First Alliance has launched a new program that highlights best practices across the country that any leader can use. Utilize allies in your state including education coalitions and groups, the business community, teachers unions, etc. to provide a strong message of support for higher standards and the commitment needed to effectively implement, assess and hold students and teachers accountable for achievement.
  • Balanced and comprehensive accountability systems—New standards require new tests, and new tests require time to adjust accountability. States should encourage state leaders to delay high stakes accountability measures for students, teachers, districts and schools until implementation is successful and the new tests have been evaluated.

PTAs are encouraged to review the 5 Pillars of Successful Implementation and work with education partners at the district, region and state to Get it Right!


Lee Ann Kendrick is the Regional Advocacy Specialist for National PTA.

Keeping Families Together

This blog post was featured in the Huffington Post. Read the original post here.

shutterstock_140108563One of National PTA’s founding principles is to advocate for children and families who are most vulnerable. In the heated debate about immigration, we raise our voice for the estimated 4 million K-12 students in the United States who have at least one parent with the potential of being deported. (Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends)

If these parents and family members are suddenly uprooted from their children’s lives and deported, it will have a significant negative impact on their children’s education and opportunities. Their children will face not only the emotional loss of their primary support, but also the benefits of having families engaged in their education and other aspects of their lives, which result in a greater likelihood of graduating from high school, attending college and being employed.

It is not hard to put ourselves into the shoes of these families and to imagine the horrors that are being talked about so cavalierly. I know if I were to be snatched away by authorities, the trajectory of my 10 and 12 year-old would be forever changed. And if they lived under that threat every day, the emotional stress would adversely impact every aspect of their lives, including their potential for academic success. Yet, this is a reality for millions of children every day.

The threat to families is not just in the evolving rhetoric. In 2013, the federal government deported more than 72,000 mothers and fathers of children who are U.S. citizens, resulting in thousands of shattered families.

Actress Diane Guerrero of “Orange Is the New Black” was one such child and she wrote about how that deportation impacted her life. At 14, she came home from school to find that both of her parents had been deported. With few options, she was fortunate enough to be taken in by friends. However, her parents missed many of her academic and personal accomplishments during her childhood and were not there to provide valuable support. While Guerrero has succeeded despite this distressing experience, many children are less fortunate.

Deportation of parents can lead to greater expense as some children may need to enter the under-resourced foster care system. The trauma may cause some children to understandably lash out with negative behavior in school or possibly end up in the juvenile justice system without the support of their parents. These types of cruel deportations led one New Mexico judge to state, “For 10 years now, I’ve been presiding over a process that destroys families every day and several times each day.”

If students are more likely to do better in school and life when they have involved families, and the documented benefits of our nation’s immigrants far exceed the costs of their presence and participation, then policymakers should provide solutions that benefit our nation’s diverse and talented youth and their families, not harm them.

At National PTA, our motto is “Every Child, One Voice.” When you know our families as I do, you know that many of their children are on their way to be doctors, teachers, social workers, entrepreneurs and other valued members of our society. We raise our voice for the children of immigrants–let’s give them the best opportunity to succeed by keeping their families together and providing them with the best education possible. Their future and our nation’s future depend on it.


 

Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA and a proud father of two public school students.

We at National PTA believe that all children residing in the United States, regardless of their citizenship status, have the right of access to a quality public education, adequate food and shelter and basic health care services. Our association strongly considers that a critical part of a quality public education is to provide the same opportunities to all families to be involved in their child’s education, despite their differences.

New Poll Shows Little Appetite for Vouchers but a Craving for Resources

 

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This week, PDK and Gallup released the results from the 2015 Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. In the season of presidential campaigning when it feels like Americans are constantly pitted against each other, it is a welcome respite to find widespread agreement on some issues related to public education.

The poll conducted 3,499 interviews via telephone and internet and found that the majority of public school parents are opposed to using public funds to finance private education. In fact, the national opinion on school vouchers is in line with National PTA’s longstanding position of opposing vouchers that divert critical public funds to private or sectarian schools. National PTA has repeatedly opposed vouchers—or public school portability—in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which some policymakers continue to advocate for despite a majority of Americans disfavoring them. National PTA also released a statement in response to the poll.

Perhaps the most unsurprising finding from the poll was nearly half of those questioned stated that a lack of financial support was the biggest problem facing American schools. Funding for public education has consistently been at the top of the list of issues impacting schools for the past 10 years. The answers could be in response to the continued cuts to education at the federal, state and local levels, which were exacerbated during the Great Recession.

National PTA—along with dozens of other organizations—routinely advocates to congress for increased investment for education programs. Despite the massive funding cuts, when respondents were asked about schools in their own areas, they were much more likely to have a favorable opinion of their schools compared to schools nationally. This is analogous to voters disapproving of the job congress is doing, but continue to approve of their own members of congress.

The poll also revealed that:

  • 67% of public school parents believe there is too much emphasis on standardized tests in schools in the United States.
  • 65% of public school parents overall said they wouldn’t excuse their own child from exams.
  • African-American and Hispanic parents being less likely to say they would excuse their child from standardized test compared to their white peers.

National PTA’s position on assessing students is supported by the poll results which found that “when asked to select from four approaches that would provide the most accurate picture of a public school student’s academic progress, standardized testing was again at the bottom of the list when compared with three other indicators of progress.” Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Dr. Daniel Koretz, recently told the Christian Science Monitor, “True accountability would include many unstandardized measures of student and teacher performance, everything from portfolios to observations, and that a limited amount of standardized testing then could be part of the oversight system to make sure teachers were applying appropriate standards.”

National PTA believes valid assessment does not consist of a single test score, and that at no time should a single test be considered the sole determinant of a student’s academic or vocational future. Rather, policy alternatives to social promotion and grade retention must be established.

Stay in the loop! Sign-up to get our PTA Takes Action e-newsletter and visit our Takes Action Network for the latest advocacy news and legislative updates.


Lindsay Kubatzky is the government affairs coordinator at National PTA.

Ending the Use of Restraint and Seclusion

Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal lawsuit against a sheriff’s department in Kentucky after an eight-year-old boy and nine-year-old girl with ADHD and additional disabilities were handcuffed by the deputy sheriff for conduct related to their disabilities. The deputy sheriff used the handcuffs as a restraint on the students by positioning the handcuffs on the student’s biceps locking their arms behind their back, which the ACLU argues is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

At the 2015 annual convention, National PTA recently approved a resolution against the use of restraint and seclusion on students that:

  • Limits the use of restraint and seclusion on students only to be used as a last resort in emergency[i] situations
  • Seeks to educate the school community and parents about the risks of excessive and/or inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion by untrained school personnel.

National PTA also promotes the use of positive or non-aversive interventions for school discipline.

There is overwhelming evidence that the use of restraint and seclusion on children is dangerous, life-threatening and not an effective technique for discipline. This also continues to be used across many states and school districts.

For instance, according to the U.S. Department of Education, students with disabilities represent 12% of public school students, but are 75% of all students subject to physical restraint and 58% of students subject to seclusion. The 2011-12 Civil Rights Data Collection found the use of restraint and seclusion to be significant with over 110,000 student cases documented, absent of data entries from multiple states and districts that do not report on restraint and seclusion.

In 2009, the United States Congress introduced legislation to regulate the use of restraint and seclusion in schools across the nation, but no federal legislation has become statute. National PTA has supported the Keeping All Students Safe Act in the last few Congresses and will continue to support legislation that reduces the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.

The lack of federal action has led many states to create their own restraint and seclusion statutes and guidelines that vary widely. The Autism National Committee captured the legal landscape of restraint and seclusion laws nationwide in a recent report that found that only 25 states have laws providing meaningful protections against restraint and seclusion for all children and 35 states provide protections for children with disabilities.

Kentucky was one of the states that fell under both categories of meaningful protections, but there are many caveats and exceptions that limit children’s protections under state laws—such as room descriptions, types of restraints and seclusion, and what constitutes emergency and life-threatening situations compared to everyday actions. Many states do not even require parental notification when restraints or seclusion has been used on a child, limiting the parent’s ability to take action and correct the problem so that their child can learn in a safe environment.

National PTA will continue to support evidence-based alternatives to seclusion and restraint— such as positive behavioral interventions—that work to improve a child’s actions in school. We encourage parents and families to be aware of their school’s discipline policies and the restraint and seclusion laws of their state in order to help create a safe a supportive school environment for all children.

Stay in the loop! Sign-up to get our PTA Takes Action e-newsletter and visit our Takes Action Network for the latest advocacy news and legislative updates.

[i] Emergency is defined as an unanticipated and already occurring event that is placing the individual or others in imminent danger of physical harm.


Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.

National PTA Lauds Senate Judiciary Committee Passage of Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Nation’s Juvenile Justice System

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 2015 (JJDPA), which has protected the care and treatment of children and youth in the justice system for over 40 years.

The bill, S. 1169—which Congress last reauthorized in 2002—would close loopholes in the law to prevent youth from entering the system for minor offenses, and make provisions to ensure the continuation of children’s education while detained and a smooth transition back into the classroom.

National PTA believes that this bipartisan reauthorization is a positive step towards a safer and more supportive juvenile justice system that helps every child reach his or her potential. Earlier this month, we cosigned a letter in support of the bill with other national and state organizations.

The bill will move to the Senate floor for further consideration. In June, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced a JJDPA reauthorization bill—H.R. 2728—in the House.

According to a recent report by the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC), despite key reforms to reduce youth incarceration and detention, more than 600,000 children and youth are arrested each year in the U.S. A majority of these arrests could be more effectively treated in community-based settings.

The report also found that:

  • Over 60,000 of these young people are being held in detention centers awaiting trial—thousands for minor offenses such as skipping school.
  • About 250,000 are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system annually.
  • Of nearly 55,000 children in state prisons, most are incarcerated for non-violent crimes.
  • On any given night, more than 6,000 youth are held in adult jails and prisons.

Our organization has advocated for a fair, safe and rehabilitative juvenile justice system for over 100 years, dating back to the association’s first resolution in 1899, addressing how children are handled in the judicial system.

We continuously support the prohibition of incarcerating youth in adult facilities; addressing racial, ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities in the juvenile justice system; and finding alternatives to detaining nonviolent youth.

Other provisions in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2015 include:

  • Prohibiting children who commit status offenses—conduct that would not be a crime if committed by an adult such as breaking curfew, skipping school or running away—from being kept at a correctional facility.
  • Encouraging alternative options for status offenders.
  • Making sure detained youth are kept separate from adults.
  • Providing clear directions for states to develop plans to reduce racial and ethnic disparities among youth who come in contact with the juvenile system. States and state education agencies would also need to develop plans and collaborate with juvenile detention facilities to continue a child’s education while detained and allow for a smooth transition back to the classroom.

Keep checking our blog for updates on the JJDPA reauthorization process and other legislation to better the lives of every child in education, health and safety.


Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.