NSBA Legislative Highlights: Victory for school districts — FCC approves infusion of $1.5 billion for E-rate program

Source: National School Boards Association

At its Open Meeting on Thursday, December 11, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a Report and Order to modernize the E-rate program that includes $1.5 billion in additional funds for broadband access and digital learning opportunities for schools and libraries. This latest step in the modernization of E-rate will allow thousands of additional schools and libraries, including many in rural and remote areas, to gain access to high speed Internet connections, reaching millions of students and community members. The current funding level for E-rate ($2.45 billion) has been virtually the same since the program was authorized by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. NSBA has long advocated for an E-rate funding increase to help school districts keep pace with the demands and opportunities of our 21st Century economy.

Fiscal Year 2015 Funding Update
Thank you to everyone who rallied yesterday afternoon regarding the long-term Continuing Resolution (CR) that is slated to fund education programs and other government operations through the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2015). The U.S. House of Representatives postponed its vote on the funding bill, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, until late Thursday, December 11. Ultimately, the House passed the measure by a vote of 219 to 206. Ten members abstained from voting. View the Roll Call vote. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure and forward it to the President.

The CR includes funding for every government agency and would either sustain or slightly increase funding for a number of programs central to school districts. However, funding for competitive grant programs such as Race to the Top would be decreased or eliminated in the CR. The appropriations bill would provide an additional $14 million under English Language Acquisition (ELA) grants to help school districts address the needs of unaccompanied minors who have been released to sponsors since January 1, 2014. The funds would first go to states with counties that have 50 or more unaccompanied minors, and could be used for supplemental education services and non-academic supports.

In addition, Title I grants for disadvantaged students and special education grants under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) would each receive a slight increase of $25 million. The language regarding School Improvement Grants (SIG) is also favorable for school districts, providing more options for locally designed school turnaround programs.

Flexibility for school districts under some child nutrition standards is included in the bill. States may grant an exemption to the whole grain requirement through the 2015-2015 academic year to districts that demonstrate hardship in procuring compliant products. The bill also postpones sodium reduction targets until there is research validating the targets for children. In addition, grants for school kitchen equipment are level-funded at $25 million.

Many thanks for your quick response to our action alert yesterday that helped spur the House’s consideration of the CR. NSBA has been engaged in the appropriations process for FY2015 and will continue to keep you apprised of any new developments, as well as proactive measures planned for FY2016.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)
The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is gearing up once again. NSBA met with key staff for the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee and the House Education & the Workforce Committee. Staff indicated that ESEA reauthorization is a top priority for the next Congress. In these meetings we both shared the policy positions of the NSBA Delegate Assembly and positioned ourselves as a key resource moving forward.

Eighteen States Awarded Preschool Development Grants
Eighteen states have been awarded the Preschool Development Grants for more than $226 million in the FY 2014 competition. The grants, jointly administered by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will support states to build and expand high quality preschool in high-need communities. ED officials said the grants will reach 33,000 children across the country in the program’s first year and more than 18,000 additional children will be served in high quality preschool. Two types of grants were awarded: Development Grants for states serving less than 10 percent of 4-year-olds; and Expansion Grants for states serving 10 percent or more of 4-year-olds.

States awarded the Development Grants are: Alabama, Arizona, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada. States awarded the Expansion Grants are: Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia. Here’s a fact sheet. Thirty-six states applied for the Preschool Development Grants. Federal officials said these grants were part of more than $1 billion in new federal and private sector investments in early childhood education announced by President Obama during Wednesday, December 10, White House Summit on Early Education.

About mnmsba

The Minnesota School Boards Association, a leading advocate for public education, supports, promotes and strengthens the work of public school boards.
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