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GAE Takes Part in Educator Conference Call with Sen. Isakson

GAE participated in a conference call with U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson ( Georgia) on Tuesday, March 27, 2007. There were about 50 educators on the call covering all areas of Georgia. The topic of discussion on this call was the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA or No Child Left Behind/NCLB).

Those participating on behalf of GAE were: President Jeff Hubbard, Vice President Calvine Rollins, and District 1 Director Sandra Thompson.

After opening comments from Senator Isakson, the participants were given an opportunity to ask questions. Despite some technical difficulties, the GAE representatives were able to ask questions, leave voice mail messages/questions, and send email questions to the Senator. The notes below were taken by President Hubbard in an effort to keep all members informed about the discussions GAE leadership is having with our Georgia delegation in the U.S. Congress. Many of the Senator’s comments are similar to the message that NEA is pushing at the national level.

Senator Isakson’s Comments

He stated there were four key concerns to the reauthorization:

1) Needs Improvement Category – proposing a Growth Model (perhaps a bridge of three years instead of the one year death penalty) He discussed this item with Senator Kennedy on the morning of the call.

2) Highly Qualified Teachers – wanted to broaden the definition, especially in Special Education. Looking at methods of Alternative Certification in order to meet personnel and qualification needs.

3) English Language Learners – change from a one year testing exemption to either a) three-year exemption from testing or b) until the student is proficient in English.

4) Change Assessment Models for Special Needs students in order to meet AYP and testing should be more reflective of the student’s IEP.

Questions from participants on the call (approximately 50 educators from throughout Georgia): (Senator Isakson’s responses are in [brackets] and comments from GAE may follow the brackets.)

1) What happens if ESEA is NOT reauthorized? [Then it would be another four years – 2011 before reauthorization could occur and how it is handled would be based on who controls the White House and Congress.]

2) When will the reauthorization bill come out of committee? [Senator Kennedy anticipates the bill will come out of committee for a vote in mid-June.]

3) How will alternative assessments be determined for special needs students? [Let the alternative assessment model be determined by the students’ IEP.]

4) Growth Model – concerned about the need for a Student Information Technology system so records can be easily transferred. [We will have to create a nationwide system] Georgia DOE has been working on our system for over five years and it is still in its infancy.

5) Will the Perkins Act be cut in response to additions in Title I funding? [The President uses the Perkins each year as a bargaining chip, it will NOT be cut from Special Ed……Special Ed MUST be moved to full funding] Congress has NEVER fully funded IDEA.

6) What about creating a consistent definition for graduation percent on time? The current definition is not practical. [We must determine a different way to chart graduation rates, especially with special needs students and/or students who have dropped out and returned to school.]

7) Comment – We need to reverse the order of Parental Choice. Students in Needs Improvement schools should have Supplemental Education services as their first choice. [This discussion has started.]

8) Funding for the McKinney grant being eliminated? [Southwestern states also have this concern – wants the funding kept in….transparency is needed so that the money follows the student in case of a 2nd transfer.]

9) Students cannot be allowed to be counted in multiple sub-groups for AYP…one student could be counted in several sub-groups, causing schools to have inflated, unfair analysis. [Understand, discussions are underway.] When Senator Isakson’s staff contacted GAE to participate in the call, they stated that the Senator hoped to continue these conference calls in order to continue getting feedback from educators about the reauthorization of ESEA.