Shaver helps as work begins on new law

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

When the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 is renewed, school funding may become a more competitive process.
Making schools compete for federal dollars was among the topics discussed earlier this week when Tupelo Public School District Superintendent Randy Shaver joined 10 superintendents from across the nation to discuss the future of the law that provides federal money for schools.
The ESEA is currently authorized under No Child Left Behind, which requires schools to meet benchmarks on state standardized tests to prove their students are at grade level. The law needs to be reauthorized this year.
This week’s meeting in Washington, D.C., included U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, staff members, Executive Director of the Council of Chief State School Officers Gene Wilhoit and six chief state school officers – or state superintendents. Shaver was one of four system superintendents, including the superintendents of New York City; Montgomery County, Md., and Window Rock, Ariz., schools. The meeting was called to begin drafting the new law, which would then have to be approved by the U.S. Congress.
“It is still in the formative stage,” Shaver said. “Overall, I like their vision.”

More competitive
Among the proposals would be making federal money for schools more competitive, like the recent Race to the Top fund, in which state education departments submitted bids to receive a portion of $4.3 billion of federal money. The winners will be announced in April.
Currently, much of the federal money for schools is entitlement money that schools get based on certain criteria, such as the number of Free and Reduced Lunch students they have.
Under the new model, schools would have to show how the money would improve student achievement. At the same time, they would have more flexibility in how they could spend that money in order to spur innovation.
“There is some validity to competition, but a big fear I have is that in their competitive model, there is the distinct possibility that the rich will get richer,” Shaver said.

Equal opportunities
For instance, large city school systems with grant-writing staffs will have more access to money than smaller systems where central office workers wear many hats. Shaver said that if a competitive model is adopted, he would hope there would be categories for schools of different sizes.
Shaver said that one of the goals for Duncan and President Barack Obama is to implement a system of national assessments.
Schools could be ranked on a scale with several different levels: constantly under-performing, low-performing, stagnant, schools in the middle and highly effective. Shaver said their idea would be to judge schools less on how many students are at grade level and more on how much every student is growing academically. In that end, it may more closely resemble Mississippi’s new assessment model.
“The president’s goal is that by the year 2020, America must be first in the world in graduation rate,” Shaver said.
A large component of that goal would also be the percentage of students who advance to and complete college.
Shaver said there will be future meetings in Washington. In the meantime, he is tasked with contacting school superintendents throughout the Southeast to get their input.

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.