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

‘Perhaps the solution is not the proliferation of charters, but rather the elimination of the rules and regulations that allow charters exempt from them to thrive.’

“Learning Leadership” column, April 2012 edition of eSchool News—The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) is one of the oldest education associations in the country. Founded in 1865, its mission is to advocate for the highest quality public education for all students and to develop and support school system leaders.

Our members are the educational leaders in every community in America. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that our job is to represent the interests of local school systems in our nation’s capital. We often find ourselves at odds with a federal government that pushes to become more and more involved in local affairs and with state governments that often will highjack federal funding before it trickles down to the local level.

Our positions come directly from our membership, and we take advantage of today’s technology to survey our members frequently and get real-time responses to what is affecting students in their schools and communities. Indeed, our members often feel that they have direct input into the policy making here in Washington, D.C. Our surveys on the impact of the economy on our schools have become as popular here inside the Beltway as the polls on presidential contenders. We actually think that our surveys better serve the public.

Our legislative agenda and our positions on proposed policy directives are guided by the input we receive from the field. Our beliefs and positions are reviewed annually so as to keep them up to date. Most recently, our Governing Board convened at our National Conference on Education in Houston to approve the latest draft of AASA’s Beliefs and Position Statements in February.

We believe that public education is the cornerstone of democracy and a civil right. As such, AASA aggressively will defend against all actions that undermine public education, such as vouchers, tax credits, and charters that are not publicly accountable.

We are concerned by the inclusion of vouchers and charters in both the House and Senate versions of the bills that would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and by a number of bills at the state level that would grant tax credits to private charters. This will further erode the financial structure of public schools at a time when our school systems are already reeling from the reductions to the property and sales tax revenue that is their primary source of support.

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

AASA does support public school choice and charter schools that operate under the governance of local public school boards. There should be a level playing field for the non-discriminatory and unconditional enrollment of all children, including those in need of special services. The same rules and regulations should apply to everyone, and all schools receiving public funding must be held accountable to the same standards. Non-public charters have become the “exception to the rules,” leaving us to ponder that perhaps the solution is not the proliferation of charters but rather the elimination of the rules and regulations that allow charters exempt from them to thrive.

We are also well aware of the relationship between funding and equity. The method by which public education is funded in America is partially responsible for the broad disparity in quality that exists across school systems. We joke about the ability to determine a school district’s achievement profile by its ZIP code, but that is not far from the truth.

Poverty is not an excuse, but it is a reality. The correlation between National Assessment of Educational Progress scores and the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches in a school is conclusive evidence that even the performance of children not in the federal lunch program is affected if they attend a school with a high concentration of poverty. 

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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