These core beliefs are critical to the success of U.S. public schools

We have repeatedly expressed our concern with the Obama administration’s current budget proposal to continue to divert ESEA dollars into competitive grant programs such as Race to the Top, rather than distributing those dollars via formula grants based on poverty, as was the intended purpose of ESEA. The federal government’s contribution to the funding of our schools is a mere eight percent. Yet, since No Child Left Behind, that eight percent insists in dictating how the remaining 92 percent will be spent. The eight percent also does not fully fund the many mandates that trickle down from the federal government and the states.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the best example of that. Authorized to reach a 40-percent contribution, federal funding for IDEA has never exceeded 18 percent of the cost of providing special-education services. Consequently, many school districts find themselves allocating close to 40 percent of their budget for the education of 12 percent of their children. These are services that are very much needed by those children—but the overwhelming cost is borne by the local community, rather than the federal government that mandated them.

Another of our beliefs is that, for children to be ready to attend school, steps must be taken to account for non-school factors that affect student achievement. This is the basis for our “Education of the Total Child” initiative.

We support the enactment and funding of universal health care for all children, and AASA currently is working with the Centers for Disease Control and the Children’s Defense Fund to ensure that 50,000 eligible children across America sign on to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). We are also actively involved with school systems around the country in promoting healthy school environments, personal wellness, breakfast in school programs, anti-obesity campaigns, and access to social services and universal immunization.

We also support early childhood education programs, and our state affiliate in Connecticut has taken this a step further by proposing universal pre-school programs beginning at age three and full-day kindergarten for all children. This is in recognition of the fact that the best return on the public’s investment in education is seen in early childhood programs, specifically for students in poverty. Given that one out of every five children in America lives in poverty today, early childhood education programs would be a very wise investment indeed.

Joe Cirasuolo, a former superintendent who is now executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, has spearheaded the development of a visionary document called “NextEd” that aims to transform Connecticut’s education system. The document has captured the attention of Connecticut’s governor and legislative body and could well influence the policy changes necessary to bring about true education transformation.

That, in essence, is what AASA and its state affiliates are about: advocating on behalf of the children we serve. Through input from our members, our belief statements shape our legislative agenda and the positions we take on the policies that affect our schools. Forgive us for our partiality to the needs of the local school system, for this is a grassroots effort.

Daniel A. Domenech is executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.

More columns from AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech:

What public school administrators want from policy makers

U.S. education is still the best in the world—but here’s what we can learn from others

Scarce resources, insufficient talent threaten to sink public education

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