ICYMI – Heeding Shaheen, Collins & Hassan Bipartisan Call in Congress, DeVos Reverses Decision to Cut $600K for NH Rural Schools

March 05, 2020

**UNION LEADER: Feds Back Off on $600K Grant Cut to NH School Districts**

 

**Following a Robust Bipartisan Call from Congress, DeVos Reverses Decision that would have Jeopardized 90 Percent of NH’s Funding Through Federal Rural Education Program**

 

(Washington, DC)— Yesterday, in response to a robust bipartisan call from Congress, the Department of Education announced that it would reverse its decision that jeopardized funding eligibility for more than 800 rural, low-income schools across the nation, including New Hampshire. Earlier in the day, Shaheen joined a group of lawmakers led by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH), opposing the decision to abruptly change the methodology that determines which rural schools are eligible for funding through the Rural Low-Income Schools (RLIS) program. The change was to be implemented without notice to Congress and after funding for fiscal year (FY) 2020 was already appropriated.

 

The change would have impacted dozens of New Hampshire school districts, eliminating more than $600,000 that our rural schools rely on—approximately 90 percent of New Hampshire’s funding.

 

Kevin Landrigan with the Union Leader has the story, which can be read here or in full below.

 

 

Union Leader: Feds back off on $600K grant cut to NH school districts

 

By Kevin Landrigan

New Hampshire Union Leader

 

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.”

 

New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said the initial announcement from DeVos was a preliminary one and the final grant amounts were not to become official for a few months.

 

“We had been providing the information we received from the federal Department of Education to our congressional delegation in hopes that some accommodation might be made,” Edelblut said.

 

“We did not want to create a firestorm of protest from superintendents until there was a final grant announcement. It’s looking like this is all going to work out for the best.”

 

Angela Morabito, a spokeswoman for DeVos, told Bloomberg News it made sense not to make the policy change right away.

 

“However, due to the states’ reliance on the department’s calculations for the past seventeen years, the secretary has concluded the department can use its authority to allow alternative poverty data to be used for an additional year,” Morabito said “We have heard from states the adjustment time is simply too short, and the secretary has always sought to provide needed flexibility to states’ during transitions. This protects states and their students from financial harm for which they had not planned.”