Logo - Facebook Logo - Facebook Logo - Twitter Logo - Twitter Logo - YouTube Logo - Instagram Logo - LinkedIn Next External Link Download Icon Checkmark Telephone Open Menu Option Close Menu Option Expand element Shrink element Dropdown Menu
Twitter logo An icon denoting a twitter profile name or link to Twitter LinkedIn logo An icon denoting a LinkedIn profile or link to LinkedIn Facebook logo An icon denoting a Facebook profile or link to Facebook YouTube logo An icon denoting a YouTube profile or link to YouTube RSS Icon Facebook Icon Google Plus Icon Twitter Icon Instagram Icon YouTube Icon LinkedIn Icon Pinterest Icon Vine Icon Tumblr Icon Telephone An icon of a telephone representing phone numbers Checkmark An icon of a checkmark External Link An icon denoting a link to an external website Email An icon denoting a mailto: link Download An icon denoting a download link Menu Options An icon denoting a dropdown menu Menu Icon File Link An icon denoting a link to a report or file Back Arrow An icon denoting a link back to a parent section Next Icon Previous Icon Search Icon Play Icon Play Icon (Alternate) Academic Assistance Icon Academic Difficulties Icon Advocate Icon Basic Needs Icon Behavioral Interventions Icon Bullying Icon College and Career Prep Icon Enrichment Icon Family Engagement Icon Health Care Icon Incareration Icon Life Skills Icon Mental Health Icon Neglect Icon Physical Health Icon Service Learning Icon Memorial Giving Icon Planned Giving Icon Workplace Giving Icon Stocks and Assets Icon Corporations Icon Foundations Icon Donate Icon Volunteer Icon

Guest Blog from Dan Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association

By Dan Domenech April 8, 2015

Everyone inside and beyond the Beltway wants to see reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Hundreds of superintendents recently met at AASA’s National Conference on Education in San Diego, and a primary topic of conversation was about drafting a new education bill. Other legislative priorities we discussed included fully funding IDEA and limiting federal intrusion into state and local education policies.

Another topic should be near the top of everyone’s agenda: poverty.

Statistically, we know that poor kids miss more school, are subject to more school discipline, earn lower grades and are less likely to graduate. We’ve known these facts for years, yet too often our public policy treats poverty and education as two separate, unrelated issues.

We simply can’t afford to do that anymore. A recent report from the Southern Education Foundation finds that, for the first time ever, 51 percent of public school children are now eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch – the measuring stick that Washington uses to determine economic hardship among students and schools.

If a majority of our students are now poor, the implications are enormous: Poverty is a major predictor of success in school, which in turn is a major predictor of success in life. As more and more students start at the back of the pack, the entire center of gravity begins to shift, making it even harder to catch up.

What can be done to stop this downward spiral and close the ever-widening achievement gap? It all starts with recognizing that poverty is as much of an education issue as curriculum, class size or teacher quality. Poverty has to be a part of the conversation. Any school reform measure that ignores this issue is unrealistic and doomed to fail.

One such path to reform is the pending reauthorization of ESEA, but it’s not just reauthorization. The law needs to be funded.

The type of flexibility inherent in federal policy that supports community schools is best leveraged when accompanied with appropriate support. The continued underfunding of Title I, especially when the program is a catch-all for allowable uses, undermines the long-term successes of models like Community In Schools. Even the most well-intentioned school will struggle to implement the program when the dollars are inadequate. It is a complementary process of authorizing the underlying statute and ensuring adequate funding.

Congress needs to specifically authorize the use of Title I grants for wraparound services and similar evidence-based programs that tackle poverty in the school setting.

I discovered wraparound services years ago, when it was still a relatively new model for delivering customized, school-based social services to low-income students. As superintendent of Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools at the time, I understood that poor kids would do better in school if they didn’t have to worry about things like food, clothing, healthcare and housing.

I couldn’t deal with those issues on my own, so I enlisted the help of Communities In Schools, a leading national provider of wraparound services. Our successful partnership in Fairfax caught the attention of state education leaders, who brought wraparound services to more and more underperforming schools. With increased funding from the state, Communities In Schools of Virginia has nearly quadrupled the number of participating students in just the past three years while maintaining a 97 percent graduation rate. This is the type of return on investment that lawmakers cannot ignore.

Today, as executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, I hear constantly from school leaders who are desperate to blunt the impact of poverty among their students. They’ve seen how wraparound services are working in Virginia and dozens of other states, yet all too often their hands are tied by local policies that restrict the use of Title I funding. With the reauthorization of ESEA, lawmakers can end that disparity by officially and formally including wraparound supports as an allowable use of Title I funds.

Dan Domenech is executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and board chair of Communities In Schools of Virginia.