Friday, February 23, 2007

Testimony before the US House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce

Testimony before the US House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce

Field Hearing on "Academic Achievement for All” And the “Transferability” of Federal Funding
A key issue in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)

by Richard E. Day
Principal, Cassidy School,
1125 Tates Creek Road
Lexington, Kentucky 40502
(859) 381-3018

Lafayette High School Auditorium
Lexington, Kentucky
20 April 2000
9:30 AM

Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee:

Thank you for this opportunity to present my views on federal funding. I am particularly thankful to Congressman Fletcher for his efforts in arranging “field hearings” right here in Kentucky, which I believe it is fair to say, has been a hot bed of educational reform for the past decade.

When Congressman Fletcher's office called and invited me to appear this morning I was told the committee was interested in a local school principal's opinion about the transferability of federal funding. To be honest with you, I haven’t paid much attention to federal activities of late and I had to do a little homework before appearing today. Most of what I know about this issue I learned from this committee. Your web site allowed me to review testimony as well as the chairman's comments, over the past two years. (The Internet has truly made government more accessible. So, thank you for that.) But, just as we teach our students to use multiple sources in their research, I also sought dissenting opinions. And, I had no trouble finding them among some of our more prominent professional groups.

What I have read is tempered by my own set of experiences. I was educated in a small public district, attended both the University of Kentucky and Xavier University, an excellent private institution. I have been a principal in three schools: one rural, one suburban and one city – all public - all in Kentucky. My experience includes how things were before, and during reform. So, I bring a couple of decades of practical experience and a strong belief that the decisions we make now, regarding the education of our children, will have an impact that goes far beyond today’s classrooms and extends into the middle of the new century.

The “transferability” of federal funds is a new concept to me. Historically, federal programs were developed to address specific needs. I suppose it was thought that since the constitution left education as a responsibility of the states, federal funds should only be used for specific programs. But, I’m not here to debate constitutional issues with you. I’m here this morning to share my opinion about “transferability” - and I like the idea - but with some important reservations.

First, I want each of you to know that today’s teachers are being asked to perform at higher levels than at any other time in our history. We are a long way past readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic. And, in Kentucky, with our laws promoting local school-based decision-making councils, we are working more closely with our parents than ever before. It’s not just punch and cookies anymore. Parents and other community members have a stake in our schools and they have proven to be effective partners for change. It would be good for us all to keep in mind that these schools belong to the communities they serve.

In Kentucky, our school councils are becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of evaluating our resources and planning for our school. We create positions, we cut positions and we develop programs for our children. It is helpful to us if we know our resources in advance, and that should include our federal resources as well. When schools know their resources, and are able to transfer some dollars between programs, they have an even greater flexibility to create positive change.

Frequently we find ourselves a few thousand dollars away from being able to afford a new character education program, purchase additional reading materials, or to extend summer school hours. Transferability of these funds, with the approval of our school council, would aid our efforts.

While HB 4141 endeavors to increase flexibility at the local level, (HR 2300) the Straight A’s proposal makes it possible for one individual – one governor - to take those funds away. The congress, in my opinion, should act to ensure that funding reaches the schools, by title, without being siphoned off at the state, or even to any significant degree, at the district level. Since our purpose is to educate children – not maintain bureaucracies or further individual political goals – why not pass federal title funds largely intact to the schools, where school councils would be accountable for budgeting? This should not prevent schools from cooperating to meet common needs, as has already been done in many instances, particularly for professional development activities. And, it would allow the flexibility that this measure anticipates. It might even allow us to remove a layer of bureaucracy somewhere along the line...governing better by governing less.

Each state’s Department of Education should be designed for broad oversight and assistance to local districts. Local districts should be places where experienced educators provide help and professional development for teachers. But the present proposal seems to favor control by governors and departments of education. In my opinion, the control should rest with each community.

Let me mention the related issue of “portability” of Title One funds. When NEA president Bob Chase addressed you last June he said that efforts to make Title One a portable benefit so that the funds would be assured to reach each child "represent an attempt to diffuse and dilute the effectiveness of Title One". Mr. Chairman, you have already commented on Title One’s cost and questionable effectiveness over the years, I would like to discuss the issue from a different point of view.

When I began my career as an elementary school administrator some 22 years ago the rules were very different. In those days if 70% of our school's children, regardless of any other demographic factor, were performing above the norm on nationally standardized tests, we were considered a great success.

But that has not been the standard of excellence for some time now. All children, including all demographic sub groups of children, must be taught to achieve at high levels. While the gaps in achievement may exist for many social reasons, it is the public school that is charged with the responsibility of addressing this achievement gap. Every day I see dedicated professionals attempting to do just this. I also talk to a lot of parents who are seeking assistance for their children. I would like to think that there would be no more excuses - for why resources should not be allocated - so as to guarantee that every public school child in need - receives his or her fair share of the benefit from federal funding - regardless of any other political factors.

Let me illustrate with an example. We have the Bluegrass/Aspendale housing project here in town. Children from this area are sent to a few different schools. Our goals for all of these children are the same: To perform up to our state's rigorous academic standards. But students in one home attend a school where Title One programs abound, while students in another home 50 yards away attend our school, and receive no such assistance. (During the 1999-2000 school year neighboring schools received the following Title One funds*: Johnson Elementary received $1000 per child totaling $280,000; Ashland Elementary received $750 per child totaling $174,750; J R Ewan Elementary received $500 per child totaling $147,000; Cassidy School received $0.) Instead, we are frequently asked what we (as a school) are going to do about the achievement gap - with no additional resources. These students represent a full 27% of our population. I’m not interested in diffusing Title One’s effectiveness. But, my students are as needy and as deserving as any others. They need your help, too.

In a larger sense, our whole nation depends on you - our federal legislators -to express our highest aspirations as a country - as stated in our laws. Throughout our history, even when individuals have failed, our laws have expressed America’s best intentions. When men stood to block the schoolhouse door - it was the law that ensured that we opened the door of opportunity to all people. Our most prized and most conservative values have not changed - we strive to fulfill the promises of - liberty and justice - for all.

All. That used to mean all white male landowners. But over the years we’ve come to understand that all … means all. All men. All women. All Americans. This is what we teach our children.

When our lawmakers debate issues involving how we educate our children…we are truly debating our country’s future. What kinds of places will these 21st century schools be? What should our vision be?

No matter what other kinds of educational opportunities may come to exist in the future, our public schools – the ones we trust you to nurture – must be places that promote the common good. Our public funds should be used to build the best schools we can build – schools that make us proud - schools that do not discriminate based on economics, religion or race – schools where everyone is welcome to an excellent education.

In my opinion, if there is any possibility - that under the provisions of HR 2300 - some Governor out there might collect all of the federal dollars for education and roll them into a program for school vouchers – then this new flexibility should not be attempted, regardless of how appealing the idea might otherwise be. On the other hand, if transferability really means that federal resources will arrive at the school with less “red tape” and more flexibility – then bring it on!

Again, thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts with you this morning. I hope the members will enjoy their time in the Bluegrass.

* Source: Fayette County Public Schools, Title One office.

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