Ahead of the estimated 800,000 students, families and other supporters who were attracted to Washington, D.C. for the March 24 March for Our Lives, an ACSA leadership delegation brought the school safety message to federal lawmakers.
Eyes have been opened following the Feb. 14 campus shooting that took 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The admitted shooter was a former student with apparently known behavior and disciplinary problems. It was the students of Stoneman Douglas who organized the March for Our Lives. Students who spoke at the protest, over and over again, said “enough is enough” and “never again.”
The ACSA message, delivered March 18-21, was equally straightforward: Our students have the right to attend schools and learn in a safe environment without fear of violence. Research consistently shows that learning is enhanced when children feel safe and have their physical and emotional needs met in a healthy school environment. Collectively, we must be aggressive in meeting the needs of these children, while moving toward a solution to these issues that plague school safety in order to prevent future school violence.
ACSA believes reinstatement of federal funding for competitive grants will thoroughly improve the discussion around school safety and school climate. The association’s top priority is to ensure that students feel safe, physically and emotionally, in school. In addition, ACSA strongly opposes any effort to arm teachers, principals or school administrators other than specially trained school resource officers (SROs). Proposals to arm school staff are dangerously shortsighted and would leave our schools more vulnerable to accidents and violence, rather than safer from them.
The ACSA delegation on behalf of ACSA’s 17,000-plus members was led by President Lisa Gonzales. The delegation included Patricia Brent-Sanco, director of equity for Lynwood USD; ACSA Chief Operations Officer Scarlett Vanyi; Senior Director of Federal Relations Adonai Mack; and consultant Kevin Gordon, president of Capitol Advisors, who is one of the top education advocates in California.
Brent-Sanco reported that among the most important messages were:
• Discussing the need for additional funding to implement important safety measures, including training, facility upgrades and trauma-informed care for students, with California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
• Addressing the disproportionate identification and placement of African American and Latino male students in special education with Johnny Collette, assistant secretary in the Office of Special Education at the U.S. Department of Education.
• Calling for resources earmarked for students of color in efforts to close achievement, knowledge and outcome gaps with both former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellence, and California Rep. Susan Davis.
• Advocating for increased federal funding, particularly in Titles 2 and 4, with Matthew Stern, consultant for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, and Brad Thomas, senior education policy advisor for Rep. Virginia Foxx, chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Following the ACSA lobbying trip, Congress was convinced to pass an omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2018 that provides a $2.6 billion increase for the U.S. Department of Education. President Trump signed the bill March 23. Key investments for education include: $15.7 billion for Title 1 of the Every Student Succeeds Act, a $300 million increase; level funding of Title 2 at $2 billion; and $1.1 billion, a $700 million increase, for Title 4, where school safety initiatives can be funded.
In addition, IDEA State Grants are funded at $12.2 billion; Perkins Career and Technical Education at $1.19 billion; and Impact Aid at $85 million.
Other K-12 funding includes: 21st Century Community Learning Centers, $1.2 billion; Teacher Quality Partnerships, $43 million; Education, Innovation and Research Grants, $120 million; Supporting Effective Educator Development, $75 million; School Safety National Activities, $90 million, a $22 million increase above the FY 2017 level; Office for Civil Rights, $117 million; new funding for Statewide Family Engagement Centers, $10 million; Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems, $32.3 million.
Early learning and care also saw gains under the Department of Health and Human Services, including Child Care and Development Block Grants, funded at $5.2 billion, as did child nutrition under the Department of Agriculture, including the Child Nutrition Program, $24.1 billion; School Breakfast Program Equipment Grants, $30 million; and Demonstration Projects (Summer EBT), $28 million.
The omnibus spending bill also includes notable new policy provisions with implications for schools, such as:
• Stop School Violence Act: The Bureau of Justice Assistance (Department of Justice) is authorized to make grants to states, units of local government, and Indian tribes to support evidence-based programs, violence prevention efforts, and anonymous reporting systems. Funds may also be used to support physical security upgrades for schools, like metal detectors, locks, lighting, and other deterrent measures. The bill re-allocates $75 million from the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative to the SSVA.
• Secure Rural Schools Program: Congress provided two years of support for the lapsed program, which offers formula payments to qualified “forest counties.” SRS payments mainly go to rural, western counties with high presence of Bureau of Land Management or National Forest System.
• Rural Utility Service Broadband Pilot: The bill authorizes the Rural Utility Service to launch a $600 million distance learning, telemedicine broadband program. The bill notes that the funding should be prioritized to areas currently lacking access to broadband service.
There were other key policies that were not addressed in the final bill, including a solution for the students, teachers and other individuals covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Overall, though, the D.C. trip was fruitful, and ACSA will continue to lead efforts in negotiations on school finance, local control and governance, reducing bureaucracy, program flexibility, quality Pre-K, K-12 and adult education, as well as special education, the needs of English learners, teacher and administrator training, school discipline, alternative education, preschool, nutrition, health and many other important policy areas in K-adult education.
“This trip gave the attendees the opportunity to engage in bold advocacy for the students of California,” equity leader Brent-Sanco said. “We tried to establish mutual commitments to support legislative policy that will enhance the educational experience for students, parents, and staff in California. Our message of equity, access, and justice for all students was very timely in light of recent events in our country.”