WASHINGTON – In case you missed it, following strong bipartisan pushback led by Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) the U.S. Department of Education yesterday announced that it would halt a change that would have resulted in a $600,000 cut to rural New Hampshire school districts.
The department had previously said that it would abruptly change the methodology that determines which rural schools are eligible for funding through the Rural Low-Income Schools program, which would have jeopardized funding eligibility for more than 800 rural, low-income schools nationwide. In response to the department’s plan, Senators Hassan and Collins yesterday led a bipartisan group of 20 of their colleagues in urging the department to reverse course, which the department did later that day.
As the Union Leader reported, New Hampshire school districts that had stood to lose all of their grant funding included:
After the Department of Education announced it would back off its proposed change, Senators Hassan and Collins said, “The Department of Education made the right decision. We are pleased that the Department listened to the bipartisan opposition to this misguided change. Had it not, more than 800 rural, low-income schools could have lost crucial funding and been forced to forgo essential activities and services, such as technology upgrades and expanded class offerings for reading, physical education, art, music, and distance learning. We look forward to working with the Department to serve students learning in our rural communities in Maine, New Hampshire, and across our country.”
Feds back off on $600K grant cut to NH school districts
By Kevin Landrigan
A strongly worded letter by a band of powerful senators convinced U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Wednesday to back off on deep cuts to a rural education grant that could have cost more than three dozen New Hampshire school districts $600,000.
Those school administrators had been scrambling after learning a change to the Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP) would do away with grant money they had used to offer services for rural students.
That all changed Wednesday when U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., co-wrote a letter signed by a bipartisan group of 17 other senators urging DeVos to reverse course.
By day’s end Wednesday, DeVos’ office announced it was going to restore the grants in the education budget request she has made to Congress for the coming year.
“The Department of Education made the right decision. We are pleased that the department listened to the bipartisan opposition to this misguided change. Had it not, more than 800 rural, low-income schools could have lost crucial funding and been forced to forgo essential activities and services, such as technology upgrades and expanded class offerings for reading, physical education, art, music, and distance learning,” Senators Collins and Hassan said in a joint statement.
Among the cosigners of the letter were Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Senate Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and like Collins, other Republican senators facing re-election battles including Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., also was an early signer of the letter, officials said.
“The department’s decision has created a funding cliff for hundreds of rural, low-income schools that are already balancing tight budgets,” Collins and Hassan had written earlier in the day. “REAP helps deliver an equitable and enriching education to thousands of students living in rural America. We strongly encourage you to rescind this new interpretation and to work with Congress to serve students in rural communities.”
Since the program’s inception in 2002, those applying for the grants had to report local poverty data from the U.S. Census.
Federal officials have allowed local officials to use the number of students in each district that received free or reduced-price school lunch as a proxy for poverty. This was because congressional supporters maintained the data on school poverty from the U.S. Census was often not reliable.
The change DeVos had initially made was to base grants for the coming year solely on the school poverty data.
In New Hampshire this meant the total grant money would have been cut from $689,435 to $97,454 in the coming year.
Among the school districts that had stood to lose all their grants under this change included:
• Keene: $66,498;
• Governor Wentworth Regional: $46,523;
• Newfound Area: $39,955;
• Laconia: $38,166;
• Claremont: $35,200;
• Winnisquam Regional: $27,485;
• Newport: $19,640.
Keene School Superintendent Rob Malay said staff members were using the grant to focus on improving the writing curriculum in all grade levels and to provide resources to help students develop social, emotional and learning skills.
“This is a significant cut and an alarming one,” Malay said during a telephone interview.
“It’s really good to see that we have that advocacy from our delegation working on behalf of our communities that work to make the best utilization of the funds made available to our schools.”
Newport Interim Superintendent Brendan Minnihan said he had been surprised at the news and the program has been a popular one in his district.
“The nice aspect ... is that there is more flexibility in which programs and areas that the money can be used to support,” Minnihan said.
He noted: “Many rural communities in New Hampshire, including Newport are already challenged to fund education like our more wealthy neighboring communities.”