2010 will be a critical year for K-12 schools in the United States. Huge currents of reform, and potential torrents of cash, are coming from Washington, DC.
January brings the initial deadlines for states to apply for "Race to the Top" grants - potentially huge federal investments in selected statewide efforts to improve K-12 schools, providing that states are willing to go along with very specific strategies set out by the U.S. Department of Education. These grants are just one program of several that channel federal stimulus funding to U.S. schools.
At some point very soon, work will begin on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, aka "No Child Left Behind"), the primary vehicle for Federal funding for K-12 schools, and the primary showcase for policies and approaches favored by the current Secretary of Education. Every six years or so, the debate
over ESEA (including what to rename it) becomes a battle royale between competing camps over how best to improve schools; the proper role of the federal government in education; the best form of school-level leadership and decision-making; the best approach to raising student achievement (and the best way to measure that achievement).
In the midst of this maelstrom, GLSEN is engaged in efforts at the federal level to ensure that noone loses sight of key first principles: students cannot learn and achieve if they do not feel safe; and schools have responsibilities beyond the "3 R's" that must be fulfilled if our schools are to provide a foundation for each student's success.
In 2009, GLSEN laid the groundwork for the tremendous challenges of 2010. We made the case for school climate as key to academic success in an historic meeting with Secretary Arne Duncan. We scored a critical behind-the-scenes victory on funding, ensuring that grant applications for stimulus funding programs clearly indicated that efforts to end bullying and harassment were "allowable uses" for the money. In meetings with the Office of Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education, we discussed possible applications of Title IX to the harassment and discrimination faced by LGBT students (as we go to press, this approach is being applied by the Department of Justice to a case of anti-LGBT bullying in upstate New York). And the Safe Schools Improvement Act, a crucial piece of anti-bullying legislation that GLSEN has championed for years, garnered a record level of bi-partisan support for proactive efforts to reduce bullying and harassment in K-12 schools.
GLSEN is a critical voice for school safety and inclusive and healthy learning environments for every student. As always, our long-standing partnerships with leading national education associations put us in a strong position to amplify education issues of concern to the LGBT community. While many contentious voices will be raised in the education debates of 2010, our message of respect will ring out loud and clear.
Thank you so much for all of the hard work and support that has us ready for the tremendous challenges of this critical year.