National PTA Statement on President Trump’s Budget Proposal

National PTA released the following statement on Wednesday regarding President Trump’s proposed budget.

President Trump’s Cuts to Public Education Devastating for America’s Children

President Donald Trump released his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018. The proposal cuts funding for public education programs by $9.2 billion.

“Equitable, high-quality public education for all students is essential to children and the nation’s long-term success,” said Laura Bay, president of National PTA. “Federal funding for education has remained at 2% of the federal budget for decades. Cutting funding for public education programs by an astounding $9.2 billion would further undermine opportunity for all children. Greater investments in public education are critical to ensure every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential and to improve our nation’s economic competitiveness.”

In addition to cutting vital funding for public education programs overall, President Trump’s budget proposal does not include funding for educator professional development or for Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, which help ensure students receive well-rounded educational opportunities, learn in healthy and safe school environments and have opportunities to use technology in the classroom. Funding for Title I—which aids schools with high percentages of children from low-income families—as well as for special education grants through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) remains at the current level in the proposal. The proposal also does not include investments for family engagement in education through the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs) program.

“Now more than ever, it is imperative to invest in family engagement programs as well as special education and Title I to ensure all children are provided the best opportunities to thrive and learn,” said Nathan R. Monell, CAE, National PTA Executive Director. “Across the country there are great disparities in available resources as well as the quality of and access to educational opportunities. National PTA remains steadfast in our belief that robust federal investments must be made in public education programs that promote equity and opportunity for all children.”

While making significant cuts to public education funding, President Trump’s budget proposal includes a new $250 million competitive grant program that would allow public dollars to be used for private and religious school tuition. Additionally, the proposal allocates $1 billion in Title I for the creation of a new grant program that would allow those funds to “follow” a child to any public school.

“National PTA has strong concerns about any proposal that would significantly affect the distribution of funds across and within Title I districts and create division and separation within communities. Our association also opposes any private school choice system—tax credits, vouchers or deductions—that drains critical public school resources,” added President Bay. “Public dollars must remain invested in public schools and not be diverted for the benefit of all students and the future of our nation.”

Bullying Doesn’t Happen Where You Think It Does

Where does bullying take place? Most parents would answer out on the school grounds, in the cafeteria, or perhaps in a bathroom or locker room—all places where teachers are less likely to be present or where there are a lot of kids. A new report from the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics shines a surprising light on where bullying takes place.

The most commonly reported place to be bullied for students ages 12 through 18 was actually in a hall or stairwell, with 41.7%. The figure was nearly identical for boys (41.8%) and girls (41.6%). This finding is somewhat surprising, as students only spend a tiny fraction of their day moving between classes. It also provides important information on how schools could potentially reduce bullying by having teachers in the hallway outside their classrooms during passing periods as well as monitors in the stairwells.

The second most common location was actually in a classroom, with 33.6% of students reporting being bullied there. In an article about the study on Edutopia, author and former teacher Stephen Merrill speculated that such bullying might be more common during the transitional moments in the classroom when students are arriving, moving between activities, or leaving the classroom—all more chaotic times that are more difficult for a teacher to manage.

The remaining locations for bullying that were surveyed were in the cafeteria (22.2%), outside on the school grounds (19.3%), online or by text (11.5%), on the school bus (10.0%), and in a bathroom or locker room (9.4%).

If your PTA would like to address the bullying issue in your school, take advantage of PTA’s Connect for Respect program. This turnkey program provides your PTA with all of the materials and resources needed to assess your school’s current climate, to engage the school community in dialogue, and to develop and implement an action plan.

New Illinois ABLE Program Helps Families with Special Needs

ilRaising a child with special needs can be expensive. Last week, Illinois State Treasurer Michael W. Frerichs unveiled the Illinois ABLE plan to help families save for future expenses. The plan was developed by the National Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Alliance, a consortium of 13 states that worked with Congress and state legislatures to create this special investment program that allows for tax-free investment growth when savings are spent on qualifying disability-related expenses.

The plan is similar to the 529 college savings plans in that families would be allowed to set aside money for future qualified expenses, invest these funds in professionally designed savings accounts, and avoid some tax penalties on the fund. Eligible individuals can open the account for themselves, or an authorized individual can open an account on their behalf. To be eligible, a person must:

  • Be entitled to SSI or SSDI because of their disability
  • Have their disability present before age 26

Annual contributions per beneficiary are limited to the federal gift tax limit, which is currently $14,000. Like the 529 college savings plan, anyone can contribute to an ABLE plan, including relatives and friends. The Illinois ABLE plan is designed to protect an individual’s federal benefits, and up to $100,000 saved in an ABLE account would not be counted against a person’s eligibility for SSI or other federal means-tested programs. ABLE account holders are still eligible for Medicaid regardless of their account balance.

Withdrawals from an ABLE account are tax-free if used for qualified disability expenses. These are any expenses that are incurred as a result of living with a disability and that are intended to improve the beneficiary’s quality of life. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Education
  • Health and wellness
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Legal fees
  • Financial management
  • Employment training and support
  • Assistive technology
  • Personal support services
  • Oversight and monitoring
  • Funeral and burial expenses

The state treasurer’s office has created a fact sheet to share with families who may benefit from the Illinois ABLE plan. The Illinois ABLE website provides additional information as well as providing a fast and easy way to sign up and create an Illinois ABLE account.

ISBE Unveils New Friendlier Website

seallogostacked_100pixelstallonwhiteThe Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) provides a wealth of information for families, teachers, administrators, and community members on their website. However, finding the information you were looking for used to involve navigating an extremely complicated series of menus and links, backing up from dead ends, and sometimes futile searches. However, right before the holidays, ISBE debuted their redesigned website with easier navigation, topics arranged in several different ways, and even a short introductory videos on how to move around and how to search the new website.

Across the top of the website are links to areas for key education stakeholders, including administrators, teachers, families, communities, and new media. The topics link at the end of the menu takes you to a grid of 21 separate topics, including:

A dozen of these topics are highlighted on the lower half of the home page. The bottom of the page provides links to the Superintendent’s weekly message and a calendar of ISBE meetings.

As the deadline for the state’s ESSA implementation plan approaches this spring, the easy access to Illinois’s draft plan and reader’s guide will be critical to families wanting to provide feedback. The third draft of the plan is currently being completed and should be available in the near future. Likewise, the information on the upcoming state assessments, including the PARCC assessment for grades 3 through 8 and the new SAT assessment for high school juniors, will be helpful for families wanting to understand the schedule for assessments and the release of their child’s results. There is also information on the new physical fitness assessments that are starting this year.

With the proliferation of misinformation circulating on social media today, it is especially useful to be able to go directly to the root source for accurate information. The new ISBE website makes finding that core information directly from the source so much easier than it has been in the past, allowing families to find out exactly what their child’s school needs to be doing to provide them with a quality education.