Understanding Financial Aid Award Letters

If you have a college-bound senior, you might be dealing with one of the more confusing parts of helping your child decide which college admission to accept—figuring out what the financial aid award letter means and how those offers from different colleges compare. The SLM Corporation, known as Sallie Mae, the federal banking partner that runs the student loan program, has a useful page to help you decode what a financial aid award letter means.

The page provides answers to questions such as:

  • What’s in a financial aid award letter?
  • What do COA, EFC, and other parts of the letter mean?
  • How to you compare financial aid packages?
  • How do loans, grants, and scholarships compare in an financial aid award letter?
  • Do I have to accept all of the financial aid offered in the letter?

The site also offers a short video with four tips on how to read an award letter. Make sure that you an d your child have the information you need to make a college decision that is right for them and for your family’s financial situation. Check out Sallie Mae’s page and other information on the site.

Photo © 2016 by airpix under Creative Commons license.

Three Reasons Why ISBE’s FY 2019 Funding Request Matters

You may have seen in the news recently that the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE) budget request for the 2019 Fiscal Year (FY) is $15.7 billion, an increase of $7.5 billion over FY 2018. With Illinois’s financial issues well known, even ISBE acknowledges that this request is not going to be fully funded. But it is still important that legislators address this request. Here are three reasons why ISBE’s funding request matters:

  1. In arguing against SB 2236, a bill that would require the General Assembly to fund public education prior to funding the private school scholarship program, some legislators have backed away from increasing education funding, calling equitable funding an “aspirational goal” and calling the chances of adding $350 million to FY 2018 funding “slim to none.” ISBE’s budget request forces legislators to confront the true full cost of adequately funding education in Illinois and makes underfunding education a conscious, knowing decision.
  2. A new report out this week shows that Illinois’s worst in the nation education funding equity has continued to get worse. Last year’s report indicated that Illinois spent only $0.81 on a low-income student for every $1.00 spent on a non-low-income student. The new report shows that amount has now dropped to $0.78 spent on a low-income student. That same report showed that Illinois ranked 45th in state funding for education, with only 40% of school funding coming from the state. The lack of state funding puts increasing pressure on local school districts to increase local property taxes to adequately fund education. ISBE’s budget request lays bare Illinois’s lack of state funding for education.
  3. The new evidence-based funding (EBF) model adopted by the General Assembly last fall now details how underfunded schools are on a district level. No longer can legislators hide behind statewide averages that show them providing 80% of the state’s foundation level of funding. The EBF model now clearly shows that some districts in Illinois are only 45% adequately funded. Because the EBF model also takes into account a district’s ability to increase funding through local property taxes, the failure of the state to provide adequate funding to these districts is clear. ISBE’s budget request is based on providing 90% of every district’s adequacy target and shows how significant the state’s underfunding education is for each child in Illinois.


Photo © 2003 by Jacob Edward under Creative Commons license.

National PTA Advocates for Gun Safety and Mental Health Services to Protect Children

Last week, National PTA released the following statement on our advocacy efforts on gun safety and mental health services. In addition to the statement, the 2018 National PTA Legislative Conference on March 13-15 will focus on gun violence prevention efforts. National PTA has also created two documents to help PTAs address these issues:

National PTA joins students, families, educators, school administrators, community leaders and the nation in grief over the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and all acts of gun violence involving children and youth. This kind of loss is unimaginable, and our country has experienced far too many gun-related tragedies. It is urgent that we work together to find solutions and make meaningful changes to keep our children safe.

“Every child deserves to learn in an environment that is safe and to have the opportunity to grow into a happy and healthy adult,” said Jim Accomando, president of National PTA. “Our top priorities as a nation should be to protect our children, meet the needs of the whole child and ensure every child reaches their full potential. It is critical that solutions are enacted to eliminate gun violence.”

National PTA urges Congress to adopt legislation that would help prevent future tragedies from occurring while preserving the lawful use of firearms for sport and personal protection. National PTA has a strong history of advocating for laws and regulations in the areas of gun safety and violence prevention and supports the following policy recommendations:

At the same time, National PTA urges federal, state and local policymakers to prioritize mental health education, early intervention, prevention and access to school and community-based mental health personnel and services, so that all children can reach their fullest potential (Position Statement on Early Identification and Interventions for Children with Mental Health Needs, 2017). National PTA has long been committed to providing improved mental health programs and services to children, youth and their families and believes that all children and youth have the right to mental health treatment. National PTA recommends:

  • Federal, state and local policies prioritize outreach and education—including professional development for all school-based employees—in schools and communities regarding childhood mental health.
  • Resources are specifically provided to build mental and behavioral health system capacity within schools and communities to ensure students can receive a proactive continuum of behavioral and mental health services.
  • States and school districts provide the necessary resources to ensure adequate ratios of school counselors, school psychologists, school social workers and school nurses, who are the most qualified professionals to provide school-based mental health services.

“Resolutions and position statements inform PTA’s advocacy efforts on behalf of kids and schools,” added Nathan R. Monell, CAE, National PTA executive director. “National PTA urges our members and all child advocates to reach out to their members of Congress and state and local policymakers to ensure schools and communities have the resources and capacity to provide a safer and healthier environment for all students.”

Early Learning Council’s New Guidelines for Community Engagement

The value of PTA can be measured in a wide variety of ways, but one of the most strategic is representation of the parent community at the state level through participation in meaningful relationships. One such relationship is with the Illinois Early Learning Council. Created by Public Act 93-380, the Council is a public-private partnership designed to strengthen, coordinate, and expand programs and services for children, birth to five, throughout Illinois. The Council builds on current programs to ensure a comprehensive, statewide early learning system (preschool, child care, Head Start, health care, and support programs for parents) to improve the lives of Illinois children and families.

The mission of the Council is to collaborate with child-serving systems and families to meet the needs of young children, prioritizing those with the highest need, through comprehensive early learning services for children and families prenatally to age five. The Illinois PTA continues to be part of the Early Learning Council, and a representative serves on the Principles and Practices subcommittee. Ongoing dialogue about the need for age-appropriate learning experiences has prompted the development of the Guidelines for Community Engagement (included in the ZIP file).

We believe these guidelines can assist parents of young children, as well as PTA leaders, in creating a dialogue with teachers and administrators centered on the Illinois Early Learning Standards, as well as with the community at large with regard to the value of high quality early learning programs. In addition, PTA Councils in districts with an early learning program may wish to meet with their district about forming an early learning PTA to serve as a resource for family communication and education.