Members of Congress will have a chance Wednesday morning to hear arguments for and against the Obama administration’s proposal for how school districts spend billions of dollars meant to educate poor children, perhaps the most hotly contested education issue in Washington since Congress passed a federal education law late last year.

The Education Department and its allies in the civil rights movement say that the rules will ensure that children in high-poverty schools get the federal aid they are due, while a wide range of opponents have argued that the administration has overreached its authority with a proposal that would wreak havoc on classrooms nationwide.

The hearing Wednesday before a subcommittee of the House Education Committee — “Supplanting the Law and Local Education Authority Through Regulatory Fiat” — should offer a sense of how the majority Republican Congress views the administration’s proposal.

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Among the witnesses scheduled to testify is Steve Canavero, Nevada’s state schools superintendent, who said he opposes the rules because they will make it harder to do right by the most disadvantaged students. The rules could get in the way of Nevada’s transition to a more equitable funding formula, designed to send more money to schools with needy children, he said. And it could make it tougher for the state to address its teacher shortage.

Here is an excerpt from Canavero’s prepared remarks:

Districts will have to manage spending centrally to comply with the proposed regulations, meaning any decision that affects spending — which is virtually all decisions — will have to be vetted through a district finance office for a compliance check. This could affect everything from school hiring and purchasing to curricular decisions. As a former school principal, I am deeply concerned that school-level decisions — made by the people closest to the students — could be overridden by central level staff to comply with these proposed regulations.
Districts might have to manage compliance by moving teachers or other resources close to, or even after, the start of the school year to maintain the spending balances. Research shows stability is important, particularly in low-income schools, and that last minute changes are bad for students. In Las Vegas alone the transiency rate is 40 percent, meaning almost half of the over 320,000 students begin the year at one school and end it at another. Unfortunately, transiency is strongly correlated with poverty. Under the proposed regulations, it is unclear how I would advise school districts in Nevada to remain compliant without making last-minute decisions to force teachers to transfer to another school, or move technology from one building to another. We know this is bad practice in education, and I am concerned we would have to make these bad decisions to comply with these proposed regulations.
Central-office management means efforts to give schools more autonomy might be curtailed. Indeed, a bi-partisan interim committee just passed a Plan for the Reorganization of Clark County School District (Plan). At its core the Plan shifts control from the central service of the district to each local school including decisions related to capital (human and fiscal), operations, and academic programming. Each school would have a team comprised of the principal, parents, and teachers that would establish goals and objectives for the school in an effort to better meet the needs of the kids in that school. For a number of reasons, it is unclear whether this Plan would comply with the proposed supplement not supplant rule, so this locally-driven effort could be stymied by the proposed rule.

Obama administration officials are not expected to testify, but their perspective will be represented by Scott Sargrad, managing director of education policy for the Center for American Progress. Sargrad plans to say that the new rule is an important step toward ensuring that poor children get the education they deserve and are too often denied, according to a copy of his prepared remarks. Here is an excerpt:

Money matters in education. And it matters particularly for students from low-income families. This is common sense — and it’s supported by a growing body of research. For low-income students, a 10 percent increase in per-student spending increased adult wages by almost 10 percent, according to a 2015 study. Similarly, a 2016 study found that greater state spending on low-income students dramatically improved student learning in reading and math.
Students in poorer schools, however, continue to receive less than their richer peers. In approximately 1,500 school districts across the country, there are about 5,700 Title I — or poor — schools that receive on average $440,000 less per year than wealthier schools. That’s a lot of money. With $440,000, a school could hire 8 new guidance counselors, or give a $10,000 bonus to more than 40 teachers.
This inequity also happens across districts. While there is significant variation across states, high-poverty districts spend an average of 15 percent less per student than low-poverty districts. In Pennsylvania, poorer school districts spend 33 percent less per-pupil than wealthier districts in the state.
As a result of these policies, children of color often suffer the most. Indeed, compared to high-poverty and high-minority schools, wealthier and low-minority schools offer more rigorous core programs. Wealthier schools are twice as likely to offer a full range of math and science courses, offer three times as many AP classes and are twice as likely to offer dual enrollment opportunities.
But these are not just facts and figures. Every day, real students walk into schools with so few resources that every one of us would say they are unacceptable for our own child. In one Detroit elementary and middle school, black mold covers the gym floor and the ceilings are full of exposed wires, wrote Lakia Wilson, a counselor at Detroit’s Spain Elementary-Middle School, earlier this year.ix And in the William Penn School District in Pennsylvania, students like Jameria Miller “race to class to get the best blankets” to stay warm despite the school’s uninsulated metal walls.

The hearing, which began at 10 a.m., is being streamed online.

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