Education

Briefly Stated: October 11, 2023

October 10, 2023 8 min read
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Proposed Federal Rule Could Add Workers Eligible for Overtime

From the president—and first lady—on down, the Biden administration is considered a friend to education. But a proposed rule out of the U.S. Department of Labor is making those who run school districts uneasy.

Under the rule, districts would be required to provide overtime pay to more employees. It would raise the minimum salary threshold for worker exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act by about 55 percent, leading more nonteaching employees to qualify for overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours in a week.

Since 2019, eligible employees have qualified for overtime pay if their annual salary is less than $35,568. The administration proposal would raise that threshold to $55,068 annually.

At present, the national labor law exempts teachers and administrators. But other employees like school nurses and librarians who were previously exempt from overtime requirements may now qualify under the new rule, according to the Texas School Boards Association. The rule will also cover some part-time employees, depending on the nature of their jobs and schedules, the organization said.

In fact, the organization suggested districts might be better off raising some employees’ pay to an exempt level if their current salary falls slightly below the proposed cutoff.

National education organizations, including AASA, the School Superintendents Association and the Association of School Business Officials, sent a letter to the Labor Department in September, requesting more time to review and comment on the rule. It was also signed by dozens of organizations representing trade groups and public-sector employers.

“These are significant changes that will have a massive impact on the economy and millions of current and future workers,” says the letter.

The Biden proposal is similar to a 2016 rule by the Obama administration that would have raised the minimum salary threshold for exemptions to $47,000.

A federal judge struck down that proposal before it could take effect after business groups and 21 states sued to stop it. They had argued that the Labor Department exceeded its authority and set the threshold too high.

After Teachers, America’s Schools Spend More On Security Guards, New Analysis Reveals

In dollars and cents, security personnel for America’s schools are a costly affair. Collectively, in fact, schools spend more than $2.5 billion each year on school resource officers and $12 billion on security guards, estimates from researchers at the Urban Institute show.

By contrast, districts spend about $10 billion per year on counselors, $4 billion on nurses, and about $2 billion on social workers, according to Lucy Sorensen and Montserrat Avila-Acosta, the authors of “Contextualizing the Push for More School Resource Officer Funding.”

“We spend more on security guards than any other type of school personnel, other than teachers,” said Sorensen, an associate professor of public administration and policy at the University of Albany.

Teacher salaries and benefits nationwide annually cost more than $400 billion, or close to $8,000 per K-12 student.

The new analysis offers one of the first comprehensive looks at the total cost of the tens of thousands of police and security guards who patrol America’s school buildings every day.

The true fiscal cost of hiring those workers, though, has been elusive for years due to gaps in data collection. The new report also helps put investments in SROs and other security personnel in context by comparing them with other types of noninstructional school employees.

The most recently available data on districts’ security personnel spending are from the 2017-18 school year. It’s likely that the number of school-based police officers has grown since then, Sorensen said.

The overall number also obscures massive differences in spending from state to state. In Washington state, for instance, schools invest little more than $10 per student in SRO positions. Idaho’s per-pupil investment was $213.

Sorensen cautioned that districts should consider what effect their spending can have on students’ well-being. Investing more in personnel to respond to safety issues—like police and security guards—may do less good than investing in those who can work on preventing problems altogether, like counselors and social workers, she said.

California Governor Signs Handful of Laws Intended to Safeguard State’s Students

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has taken to heart the adage that the pen is mightier than the sword. He wielded that weapon late September on legislation aimed at protecting the state’s schoolchildren and repelling the conservative drive to limit what can be taught in schools.

Across three days, the Democrat signed measures:

  • Barring school boards from rejecting textbooks based on their teachings about the contributions of people from different racial backgrounds, sexual orientations, and gender identities.
  • Requiring schools to have gender-neutral restrooms by July 2026.
  • Doubling taxes on guns and ammunition that will be used for increased school security and violence-prevention programs.

Other new measures include a requirement for schools to provide “cultural competency” training to staff members on LGBTQ+ issues and the creation of a task force to identify LGBTQ+ students and push forward initiatives to support them.

“From Temecula to Tallahassee, fringe ideologues across the country are attempting to whitewash history and ban books from schools,” Newsom said in reference to the textbook law. “With this new law, we’re cementing California’s role as the true freedom state: a place where families—not political fanatics—have the freedom to decide what’s right for them.”

The California bill garnered heightened attention when a Southern California school board this summer rejected a social studies curriculum for elementary students that had supplementary material teaching about Harvey Milk, a San Francisco politician and gay rights advocate who was assassinated.

A 2011 state law requires schools to teach students about the historical contributions of gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

Newsom threatened the school board with a $1.5 million fine and the board later voted to approve a modified curriculum for elementary students that meets state requirements.

California is the first state to enact a gender-neutral restroom mandate and the first to levy a tax—11 percent on top of the 11 percent federal tax—on guns and aummunication.

The California Rifle and Pistol Association has promised to challenge California’s new tax in court.

Endless To-Do Lists Make Teaching Unappealing

Teachers have a seemingly never-ending to-do list: Make bulletin boards. Plan lessons. Connect with parents. Oversee bus duty. Chaperone the prom. Write college recommendation letters. Run active-shooter drills. Participate in professional learning communities. Learn new software. And on and on.

Do prospective teachers eye those job responsibilities and say, “No thanks, I’ll find another line of work?” Ninety percent of educators surveyed by the EdWeek Research Center say yes.

In fact, more than half—56 percent—fully agree that the demands placed on teachers are too high and that is why it has been hard to attract and retain people in the profession, and 34 percent partly agree with that perspective. The survey of 1,301 principals, teachers, and district leaders was conducted in June and July.

Between the 2008-09 and 2018-19 academic years, the number of people completing a teacher education program declined by almost a third, according to a report last year by the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education. Traditional teacher-preparation programs saw the largest decline—35 percent—but alternative programs experienced drops, too, the report found.

What’s more, the typical teacher works 54 hours per week, 25 of them spent teaching students, according to the first annual Merrimack College Teacher Survey commissioned by the Winston School of Education and Social Policy at Merrimack College and conducted by the EdWeek Research Center. Just 37 percent of teachers felt they had control over their schedules, the survey found.

“Teaching is like putting on a play every day. Costumes, practice, rehearsal, all of that is involved but it’s every single day,” said Louise Williamson, a nearly 30-year veteran teacher at Hilltop High School in the Sweetwater Union High School District near San Diego. Williamson is also a fellow with Teach Plus, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the teaching profession.

‘Parent Watch’ Online Tip Account Gets Anything But

One is the loneliest number for Oklahoma’s schools chief.

In an email account he set up, Superintendent Ryan Walters asked parents to send along tips on inappropriate materials in schools. Instead, he got a flood of memes, pictures of food and animals, and insults—along with a single complaint from a concerned parent.

Walters announced in March the creation of Parent Watch, where concerned parents could notify the state education department about materials in classrooms and libraries. The Tulsa-based Frontier news site filed an open-records request for emails that landed in the account.

Some people signed the account up for news alerts from food-delivery services, newsletters for LGBTQ+ news, sex toys, and a Peppa Pig Theme Park in Florida. One person emailed the lyrics to songs.

Many sent links to news stories detailing sexual misconduct by religious figures and Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma and across the country.

The Frontier reviewed more than 4,000 pages of emails the public sent to the Parent Watch account during the first week of its existence but found only one complaint from a concerned parent that appeared to be submitted in good faith.

That complaint was about the novel Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute by Talia Hibbert. The person said the school librarian recommended the book to her daughter, who is in junior high school. But her daughter stopped reading the book because she “didn’t feel comfortable with the content.”

Even seemingly serious responses eventually veered into parody. One person wrote to say their son was being banned from chanting “Let’s go Brandon,” a derogatory phrase aimed at President Joe Biden, at his high school.

“We will win,” the person wrote before giving away the gag. “We cannot be defeated by intelligence.”

Since taking office in January, Walters has cemented himself as the state’s top-elected culture warrior.

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Evie Blad, Senior Staff Writer; Alyson Klein, Assistant Editor; Mark Lieberman, Reporter; Caitlynn Peetz, Staff Writer; and Tribune News Service contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the October 11, 2023 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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