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Congress sends K-12 education reform bill to president’s desk

After SchoolThe U.S. Senate today joined the House of Representatives in passing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), bipartisan legislation that overhauls the No Child Left Behind Act by enacting reforms to ensure all students have access to a high-quality education.

The bipartisan legislation includes a number of provisions championed by Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), which will improve school efficiency and expand access to dual and concurrent enrollment programs for high school students. ESSA, which passed the Senate by a vote of 85-12, now goes to the White House, and the President has indicated he will sign it into law.

“Every child deserves a high-quality education, regardless of where they live or how much money their parents make. That means it is vitally important to do all we can to make sure we target public resources in the smartest, most effective way possible,” said Sen. Warner. “I’m pleased that this significant reform legislation includes initiatives I have championed since I was Virginia’s Governor to make sure that federal education dollars are allocated into the classroom instead of toward administrative, “back office” operations. In addition, this legislation reflects efforts to give states and schools the tools they need to prepare students for success from early learning all the way into the workforce. The Every Student Succeeds Act is an investment in our nation’s economic future, and I’m pleased to have played a role in strengthening this bipartisan legislation.”

The legislation includes an amendment based on a program Sen. Warner pioneered as Governor of Virginia (2002-6) giving school districts access to important fiscal tools that help identify and eliminate unnecessary administrative costs, so that more money can be redirected back into the classroom. Then-Gov. Warnerpioneered efficiency reviews as a voluntary option for Virginia’s public schools in 2003, and the concept was codified into state law in 2005. To date, more than 40 Virginia public school divisions have undergone these independent reviews, identifying close to $45 million in potential savings annually. In Virginia, each review costs an average of $110,000, and produces an average of nearly $1.1 million in potential savings—a return on investment of nearly nine-to-one.

Under the new federal legislation, schools will be allowed to use federal funds designated for administrative costs under Title IX to enlist trained management and fiscal experts to identify savings that can be achieved through best practices in administrative, personnel, purchasing, facility, and transportation management functions. These evaluations will identify potential “back office” savings—in things like bus routes and facilities management—that both save taxpayer dollars and allow for savings to flow directly to classroom instruction.

In addition to Sen. Warner’s amendment on school efficiency reviews, two of Sen. Warner’s proposals to improve access to dual and concurrent enrollment are part of the education bill.

Dual and concurrent enrollment programs allow students to earn credits while they are still enrolled in high school to get a head start on their post-secondary education. Participation in dual or concurrent enrollment also has a statistically significant impact on college enrollment rates, GPA, and graduation rates, including for low-income, first-generation, and minority students who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education.

Research has shown that dual and concurrent enrollment students are significantly more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in college, and earn a degree than other students. The bill includes Warner language encouraging states and districts to prioritize programs that facilitate effective transitions for students into the workforce, and ensure that teachers, principals, and other school leaders have the training they need to successfully implement dual and concurrent enrollment programs. These modifications will help states improve access to programs that increase college and career readiness.

The bill also includes $250 million per fiscal year in dedicated funding for the Preschool Development Grants Program, which continues to be a priority for Sen. Warner. In October 2015, the Department of Education announced that Virginia will receive a second $17.5 million grant from the program, which supports states in their efforts to build or enhance infrastructure to enable the delivery of high-quality preschool services to children. The program also supports the expansion of high-quality preschool programs in targeted communities that would serve as models for expanding preschool to all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families. The funds will go to further expand preschool access in the high need communities of Brunswick, Chesterfield, Fairfax, Giles, Henrico, Norfolk, Petersburg, Prince William, Richmond, Sussex, and Winchester.

 

Key Warner Provisions Included in the Every Student Succeeds Act

  • Fiscal Support Teams (pg. 808 line 11 through pg. 809 line 23). Allows school districts to use Title IX consolidated administrative funds to pay for efficiency reviews similar to those conducted by the Virginia Department of Planning & Budget (DPB). Senator Warner was proud to have spearheaded the DPB efficiency review program at the State level while he was Governor.
  • Formula Grants to States (pg. 323 lines 12-20). Establishes professional development and continued education of teachers and principals involved in delivering dual or concurrent enrollment as an allowable use of Title II funds.
  • Workforce Coordination (pg. 137 line 4-15). Requires states to include in their state plans information about how they plan to facilitate transitions from high school to postsecondary education, including by providing access to dual or concurrent enrollment opportunities.

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