Senate approves Warner proposals to strengthen school accountability, efficiency

mark-warnerThe Senate has approved a proposal championed by U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) to help school districts better leverage limited resources by giving them access to important tools to help eliminate unnecessary administrative costs and allow more funding to go into the classroom.

The Senate is currently considering a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Every Child Achieves Act.  Congress has not reauthorized ESEA since passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001.

Today, the Senate unanimously voted to approve Sen. Warner’s amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) authorizing states and school districts to use federal funds to evaluate their operational spending to ensure funds are used as efficiently as possible. 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.

“We can all agree that we need to pave the way for long-term, stable solutions to ensure that students have every available resource to help them succeed from early learning all the way into the workforce. Part of that conversation needs to include ways to ensure that every dollar spent on education is spent in an effective and efficient way,” said Sen. Warner. “Too many districts don’t have the ability to assess whether they are spending operational funds in the smartest way. I’m pleased that the Senate voted to approve my bipartisan amendment to help school districts spend their operations budgets more efficiently, so they can put more money back where it belongs: in the classroom.”

The program would allow school districts to bring in trained management and fiscal experts to identify savings to be achieved through best practices in administrative, personnel, purchasing, facility and transportation management functions. As Virginia governor, Sen. Warner pioneered efficiency reviewsas 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. These reviews can help school districts identify potential savings like software programs to improve bus transportation routes, enterprise-wide facilities management, and best practices in purchasing and personnel.

Added Sen. Warner, “These are commonsense steps that help school districts conserve limited resources and direct those savings into the classroom. These best practices should be available to school districts nationwide.”

“The nation needs to do more to make sure that education dollars are spent effectively. Building off of a Virginia initiative spearheaded by then-Governor Warner, the Center for American Progress put forth a proposal allowing states to use federal education funding to support productivity teams, which would help school districts evaluate their budgets and boost education bang for the buck. Senator Warner’s amendment to allow federal funding to be used for this purpose would help scale the practice,” said Center for American Progress senior fellow Ulrich Boser.

“The Council of Chief State School Officers strongly supports Senator Warner’s amendment to promote state fiscal support teams.  In Virginia and across the country, state and local education leaders are working to improve student achievement and, at the same time, be good stewards of limited public education dollars,” said Chris Minnich, Executive Director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. “Senator Warner’s ESEA amendment will support states and school districts as they work to improve education productivity and ensure that all students graduate from high school ready for college and careers.”

In addition to Sen. Warner’s amendment on school efficiency reviews, a number of Sen. Warner’s proposals to improve access to dual and concurrent enrollment, and to improve the quality of early childhood education were accepted into the education bill, as part of the substitute amendment.

Dual and concurrent enrollment programs allow high school 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 college 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 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.

“In today’s globally competitive economy, where a high school diploma is no longer sufficient preparation for a rewarding career, it is essential that we give our nation’s students the chance to jumpstart their postsecondary careers while in high school,” said Kimberly Green, Executive Director of the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc). “This amendment seeks to ensure that high schoolers across the country have that opportunity and NASDCTEc applauds Senator Warner’s continued commitment to preparing these students for the 21st century economy.”

Additionally, the bill also includes a Warner amendment with Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) to improve the quality of early childhood education by requiring states to identify and report on their progress toward improving quality and accessibility of early childhood education programs.

“We’re incredibly grateful to Senators Warner and Ayotte for their commitment to ensuring America’s children have access to quality early care and learning programs,” said First Five Years Fund executive director Kris Perry. “ESEA can and should give more young children an opportunity to benefit from quality early learning opportunities so they enter the K-12 system adequately prepared and ready to learn.  This important bipartisan amendment builds on what the Senate HELP Committee has already unanimously agreed to and would support state efforts to enhance quality in the new Early Learning Alignment and Improvement Grants.”

The Council for a Strong America added, “Recognizing the impact of quality early learning on school readiness, high school graduation rates, crime reduction and national security, the Council for a Strong America commends Senators Warner and Ayotte on their amendment to the Early Learning Alignment and Improvement Grants program. We agree this program must promote the identification of program performance measures, and require states to report on and evaluate their progress toward such goals. We believe that targeted investments in quality early childhood education are vital for putting all children on track for success, and support this bipartisan amendment to further strengthen strategic investments.”



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