GOP Plan Would Relax Rules for Storm-Affected Schools
House Republican education leaders released a proposal last week that they say would help schools and districts affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita by easing a number of federal restrictions.
Under the proposal, teachers who were deemed “highly qualified” under No Child Left Behind Act standards in their home states would be considered to have the same qualifications if they moved to another state that has received large numbers of students displaced by the hurricanes. Also, deadlines for special education reporting requirements of states and schools would be extended.
A paperwork-reduction pilot program that is a part of the 2004 reauthorization of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act would be expanded from its 15 original states to include hurricane-affected states. In addition, states would be encouraged to lift restrictions on charter school enrollment to allow such schools to accommodate displaced students.
And the proposal would ease federal funding rules that school districts must follow, such as requirements that districts provide a certain level of local funding in order to receive federal dollars. Such rules are generally referred to as “maintenance of effort.”
“All too often, bureaucratic red tape stands in the way of individuals and communities working to rebuild,” Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said in a statement. The proposal would allow school districts and states to “bypass the bureaucracy and move forward with the recovery effort,” he said.
The education provisions are part of the proposed Hurricane Regulatory Relief Act, which was introduced Oct. 6. by Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-La., a member of the education committee.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the education panel’s ranking minority member, said the GOP proposal contained some helpful provisions.
But “Congress must act much more boldly than it has so far to help the region’s schoolchildren, college students, parents, and workers recover from these disasters,” he said in a statement. House Democrats will soon offer their own relief plan for schools, he said.
The plan offered by Republicans on the House committee is one of several school-related hurricane-relief bills working their way through Congress. A Senate proposal introduced by Sens. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., and Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., would authorize $900 million in immediate grants to districts in affected areas.
The Bush administration has proposed its own relief package, which would require the federal government to pick up 90 percent of the costs of educating displaced students, up to $7,500 per student, as well as provide additional money for such costs as new teacher salaries and materials. The administration has also proposed giving any evacuated family up to $7,500 per child for tuition at a private or religious school. ("Bush Proposes Evacuee Aid for Districts, School Vouchers," Sept. 21, 2005)
Direct Aid Sought
Mary Kusler, the assistant director of government relations for the Arlington, Va.-based American Association of School Administrators, said that the House Republicans’ plan outlined some useful waivers, but that school districts were in greater need of direct financial assistance.
“These communities have lost their entire tax base,” Ms. Kusler said of the Gulf Coast areas that sustained the most damage. “They have no money coming in. They’re laying off teachers because they can’t pay them. They’re cutting off health care.”
She added: “I would just hate to seem [federal lawmakers] pass this and then back off and say we’ve done everything we can do.”
Jeff Simering, the director of legislative services for the Washington-based Council of the Great City Schools, said that districts were looking for “swift, nonbureaucratic” financial help.
“You would have to relegate some of the waivers [in the House committee proposal] to a secondary status. The financial assistance is pretty desperately needed,” said Mr. Simering, whose group represents 65 large urban districts.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education announced two hurricane-related support efforts last week to help children and adults with disabilities. The department said on Oct. 3 that it would provide $25.9 million in vocational rehabilitation funds in affected states without the states’ having to provide matching funds.
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