A federal agenda for California schools

By Susan Markarian, CSBA President

Springtime in Washington, D.C., is renowned for cherry blossoms and field trips to national monuments, but CSBA is building its own tradition — an annual lobbying trip on behalf of California public schools. From April 24-26, we’ll be on the ground in America’s capital making a case for the resources, legislation and policy needed to support public education back home.It’s not easy to develop an agenda that speaks to the needs of all in a state as vast and diverse as California, but along with our advocacy partners at the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), CSBA has identified a slate of federal priorities to address with lawmakers, policy experts, cabinet officials and political insiders.

Special education funding
When the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted more than 45 years ago, Congress promised to provide 40 percent of the average per-pupil expenditure for the new federal mandate. That promise has never been fulfilled. In 2020–21 the federal share of funding was 7.77 percent of total funds spent by California educational agencies. It’s high time our federal representatives made a concerted effort to meet that standard and support some of our highest-needs students. We’ll be pushing hard in favor of legislation that moves us toward the 40 percent federal funding promise, as well as increased funding for preschool and infant and toddler programs under IDEA.
Mental health

Research and data on the youth mental health crisis is alarming, and it’s clear more resources and services are needed to support students. The lack of sustainable funding makes it difficult to implement mental and behavioral health programs, especially when maintenance of effort requirements preclude schools from participating. The CSBA-ACSA Federal Partnership supports funding for a variety of school culture and mental health initiatives, including positive behavioral intervention programs, multi-tiered systems of supports and mental health counseling programs.

Secure Rural Schools program

Wildfires are devastating Western states including California. As forest communities pay the personal and economic price, Congress must act on long-term forest management, fire prevention and the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) and Community Self-Determination Act, which is authorized only through the end of fiscal year 2023. SRS is critical to support essential safety, fire, police, road, bridge and education services. We strongly urge Congressional support of legislation to reauthorize the act, as this program helps schools provide services to impacted students and families. The expiration of SRS would create dramatic budgetary shortfalls for more than 700 rural counties and 4,400 rural schools across the United States, including schools in 39 counties in California.

Educator shortage
Our nation’s schools are experiencing severe and growing staffing shortages. We support the increased funding for educator preparation and development programs in the President’s proposed FY 2024 budget, but additional funds are needed to incentivize and recruit educators, and to support them once they are on the job. We will advocate that policymakers recognize some states have a higher cost of living, where teacher salaries are already above the national average, and a one-size-fits-all national salary floor would not attract candidates to the teaching profession in California at the same rate as in lower cost-states. We will also make the case to increase funding to recruit school leaders.
Broadband access
Many students live in areas that lack the high-speed connections and devices required for video instruction. Some rural areas lack the infrastructure required to deliver any broadband service at all. We are requesting an extension of the Affordable Connectivity Program and maintenance of the Emergency Connectivity Fund. We also strongly support the ongoing expansion of broadband access and simplifying the application process for the E-Rate program.
Data privacy and cybersecurity

The Biden Administration is calling for minimum mandated security standards across multiple industry sectors to deal with the growing cybersecurity threat. We will demand that public schools be included in cybersecurity conversations and that special attention be paid to the unique needs of public schools as soft targets with limited resources to fend off sophisticated hackers.

Currently, there is a single, national standard for poverty that determines which students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. However, California has a substantially higher cost of living than most states in the nation and we are requesting several enhancements to the universal meals program for California students, including permanent non-congregate meal service for all geographic areas, expansion of the provision that allows the nation’s highest poverty schools to serve meals without collecting household applications and passage of H.R. 1269, the Healthy Meals Help Kids Learn Act.
Social Security

The Social Security Act penalizes California educators who retire under the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) by reducing benefits for educators who have earned Social Security retirement and CalSTRS retirement during their lifetime, and by reducing the spousal Social Security benefits for individuals who retire from CalSTRS. We are supporting H.R. 82 to repeal these provisions.Even if you’re did not travel to D.C., you have a large role to play in advancing CSBA’s legislative priorities. We encourage you to contact your representatives and advocate for the policies listed above — they will make your work on behalf of students more efficient and effective.