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E-rate Tops Legislative Priorities for Rural Education Coalition

The National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition has released its federal legislative agenda for 2014, and its focus will be on E-rate reform.

"Our rural members care deeply about expanding the cap of the E-rate dollars and distributing E-rate discounts in a fair and flexible manner," said Sasha Pudelski, assistant director of policy and advocacy for the AASA, the School Superintendents Association. "Given the gridlock on Capitol Hill, we will be heavily engaged in advancing our agenda at the FCC."

The coalition wants to double E-rate funds to $5 billion; the E-rate program provides discounts of up to 90 percent to help eligible schools and libraries obtain affordable telecommunications and internet access.

The National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition advocates for high-quality education for children in rural schools, and it's a combined effort of the National Rural Education Association, the AASA, and state rural education organizations.

Most of its other priorities for this year are the same as those from 2013, and those are: funding; Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, and a broad category of "other priorities."

Nutrition was added to its list, and school security came off of it. In the wake of the Newtown school shootings, Pudelski said the coalition had assumed there would be significant legislation in 2013 related to school safety, and it wanted to articulate its position. That hasn't changed, but since it doesn't expect action on that issue, the coalition decided to highlight other areas.

Funding

There were few changes from last year, and those were the addition of prioritizing an investment in Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as well as giving school districts more flexibility to meet the needs of all students. The coalition maintains most of its previous positions, such as opposing any shift toward competitive funding as the way to fund the nation's schools, and encouraging any competitive funds to include a rural set-aside.

ESEA Reauthorization

The coalition continued its support for the Formula Fairness campaign and reauthorizing the ESEA law, and it again requested that officials create an Office of Rural Education Policy within the U.S. Department of Education. The coalition's position is that new data requests disproportionately burden rural districts.

Pudelski said the coalition is proud of the work that was done on the Formula Fairness Act to revise the Title 1 funding formula and that a vote on that change almost happened. Rural school advocates have criticized the formula because they say it has a weighting system that penalizes small, poor districts.

"... Unfortunately, it was politics, rather than the substance of changes we were advocating for, that stymied our efforts to have the merits of the bill properly debated," she said.

Other Priorities

Some of the positions in this area include: Perkins CTE funds should remain formula-based to states and districts; efforts at the federal level should help rural districts recruit and retain teachers and personnel; Title I funds shouldn't be made portable; and a call for greater federal investment in early education through school-based and community partnerships.

Nutrition

The coalition opposes additional unfunded mandates related to school nutrition, and it says decisions related to school food-service personnel should be made at the state or local levels.

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